NASA flags concerns about overcrowding, collisions as Elon Musk plans to send another 30,000 SpaceX satellites into orbit

NASA flags concerns about overcrowding, collisions as Elon Musk plans to send another 30,000 SpaceX satellites into orbit

Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to send another 30,000 satellites into the orbit.

NASA has raised concerns over Space X CEO Elon Musk’s plans to send another 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit.
NASA says the plan will make the orbit more crowded and affect its missions.
NASA questioned SpaceX’s claim that there’s “zero risk” of a Starlink satellite colliding with large objects.

NASA has raised concerns that SpaceX’s plan to send another 30,000 Starlink satellites into orbit could lead to “substantial congestion,” increase the potential for collisions, and interfere with the agency’s activities.

“With the increase in large constellation proposals to the FCC, NASA has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions,” said NASA in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) filed on Tuesday. A conjunction here refers to the satellites moving past other objects at a close distance.

The letter was sent to the FCC because it’s currently reviewing SpaceX’s license application for a new generation of satellites, the Starlink Gen2. SpaceX received an initial FCC license for 12,000 satellites in 2018. The company’s CEO, Elon Musk, said in a January 16 tweet that it has 1,469 Starlink satellites active and another 272 moving to operational orbits.

There are currently 6,100 tracked objects in low orbit, said NASA in the letter signed by Samantha Fonder, the agency’s representative to the Commercial Space Transportation Interagency Group. The agency said the new fleet of Starlink satellites would create a five-fold increase in the number of tracked objects. It would also double the number of tracked objects in the overall orbit to around 50,000, said NASA.

“An increase of this magnitude into these confined altitude bands inherently brings additional risk of debris-generating collision events based on the number of objects alone,” the space agency added.

The agency also questioned SpaceX’s claim that there’s “zero risk” of a Starlink satellite colliding with large objects because each spacecraft can maneuver. 

“Considering multiple independent constellations of tens of thousands of spacecraft and the expected increase in the number of close encounters over time, the assumption of zero risk from a system-level standpoint lacks statistical substantiation,” said NASA.

Other than concerns about collisions, NASA also flagged risks to its science missions, as SpaceX satellites may interfere with NASA satellites and ground-based equipment.

NASA did not outright oppose an FCC license for Starlink Gen2, but said it’s requesting more information to mitigate risks.

“NASA wants to ensure that the deployment of the Starlink Gen2 system is conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment,” said the agency.

SpaceX did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Concerns about satellite collisions are not new.

Last year, China issued a formal complaint to the United Nations over two near-collisions involving SpaceX’s satellites and its Tiangong space station. 

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