The operators of the satellite constellations are forced constantly to replace their satellites because they are encountering other pieces of space junk and spacecraft. And thanks to the SpaceX Starlink satellites, the amount of similar deadly approaches will continue to prevail as per the estimates based on the data which is available.
If you are wondering how many SpaceX Starlink satellites are in orbit then here is your answer. It is being said that the SpaceX Starlink satellite alone is associated with nearly 1,600 close encounters among 2 spacecraft each week as per the data provided by the head of the Astronautics Research Group, Hugh Lewis, at the University of Southampton, the U.K. These encounters include scenarios when 2 distinct spacecraft cross within a distance of just 0.6 miles from each other.
Regular estimates of the conditions in the orbits that are based on the information from the Socrates database are being made by Lewis, who is the leading expert on space debris from Europe. This tool that is taken care of by Celestrack, offers data about satellite models and orbits their trajectories into the future for assessing the risk of collision. According to a regular update published by Lewis,
How many SpaceX Starlink satellites are planned? How will that bring a change? Compared to that of the competitor of SpaceX Starlink satellites, OneWeb is flying more than 250 satellites presently and is associated in 80 close passes every week. And it is predicted that the situation will turn worse. Only 1,700 satellites on a predicted constellation of more than some ten thousand have been kept into orbit to date. Once all the 12,000 satellites of its first generation constellation get launched by SpaceX, the satellites of Starlink will be associated with 90% of all the close approaches.
The Risk Of Collision By SpaceX Starlink Satellites
This trend has also been confirmed by the CEO and co-founder of Boulder, Colorado, Siemak Heser, which is based at Kayhan Space. His company, which is known for developing commercial autonomous space traffic management systems, estimates that on an approximate basis, an operator handling about 50 satellites will be receiving around 300 official conjunction alerts every week. These alerts also include encounters with other satellites along with debris pieces.
It is expected that the size of this catalog will increase ten times in the coming future. Along with that, Hesar added that partly due to the rise of mega constellations, like Starlink and partly as an improvement in sensors and allow detection on even smaller objects. The more objects in the catalog imply more danger when encountered. According to Hesar,
He further said that,
Despite the concerns, only 3 confirmed collisions due to the encounter have taken place so far. At the beginning of this week, SpaceX Starlink satellite tracker, Jonathan McDowell found evidence in Space-Track data that the meteorological satellite Yunhai 1-02 which disintegrated in 2021 March was actually attacked by a piece of space debris.
The worst documented collision in history took place in 2009 when the U.S. telecommunication satellite named Iridium 33 and Russia’s defunct military satellite named Kosmos-2251 crashed at the altitude of 490 miles. The incident created more than 1,000 pieces of debris all of which were larger than 4 inches. Many of these fragments were then associated with further orbital incidents.
Scientists are concerned that with the increasing number of close passes, the risk of operators making a wrong decision will increase as well. Avoidance maneuvers require fuel, time, and effort. Therefore, such risks are always carefully evaluated by the operators. Lewis further added that,
SpaceX Starlink satellites are dependent on an autonomous collision avoidance system to keep its fleet distant from other spacecraft. This however can cause a problem. The automatic orbital adjustments alter the forecasted trajectory and therefore allow predictions of collision more complicated. According to Lewis,