Problems from satellite fleets have already started (space traffic community)

Problems Predicted From Satellite Fleets Like SpaceX's Starlink Have Already Started

EXCERPT: . . . On Monday, the European Space Agency (ESA) was forced to move its observation satellite aside to make room for a SpaceX satellite in the Starlink constellation. Generally speaking, collision manoeuvres aren't that uncommon - ESA did them 28 times last year - but typically these events are caused by uncontrollable satellites or dead fragments from previous collisions.

The Starlink satellite is active however, meaning it still receives signals from Earth. When the ESA contacted Starlink about the increasingly close approach last Wednesday, the company reportedly said they had no plans to move their satellite out of the way. The agency's Earth observation satellite, Aeolus, had been in this region for 9 months, and Starlink 44 was a newcomer. As the days passed, the probability of collision continued to increase, and the space agency decided to take action.

According to the ESA, it's the first time one of its satellites has had to fire it thrusters to avoid a potential collision with a 'mega constellation' - a fleet of hundreds or thousands of spacecraft. [...] A statement from the space agency explains that at the time of the manoeuvre, the chances of collision were around 1 in 1000, 10 times higher than the threshold dictated by safety regulations.

SpaceX claims it had a bug in its on-call paging system that prevented officials from seeing this update, but if they had, they would have moved the satellite if necessary. "This example shows that in the absence of traffic rules and communication protocols, collision avoidance depends entirely on the pragmatism of the operators involved," says Holger Krag, the head of space safety at ESA. "Today, this negotiation is done through exchanging emails - an archaic process that is no longer viable as increasing numbers of satellites in space mean more space traffic."

SpaceX isn't the only company launching hundreds of new satellites into space, but it is the most ambitious. If successful, Starlink may one day be a fleet of 12,000 satellites, providing ultra-fast internet services worldwide. At the same time, companies like OneWeb and Kuiper are also launching major constellations in competition. (MORE - details)

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