The SpaceX Starlink Satellites Mishap: How To Stop Collision?

The SpaceX Starlink Satellites Mishap: How To Stop Collision?

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,

"I have looked at the data going back to May 2019 when Starlink was first launched to understand the burden of these mega constellations. Since then, the number of encounters picked up by the Socrates database has more than doubled and now we are in a situation where Starlink accounts for half of all encounters."

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,

"This problem is really getting out of control. The processes that are currently in place are very manual, not scalable, and there is not enough information sharing between parties that might be affected if a collision happens."

He further said that,

"You want to have that situational awareness for the other actors that are flying in the neighborhood.”

Bad Decisions

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,

"In a situation when you are receiving alerts on a daily basis, you can't maneuver for everything. The maneuvers use a propellant, the satellite cannot provide service. So there must be some threshold. But that means you are accepting a certain amount of risk. The problem is that at some point, you are likely to make a wrong decision."

Conclusion

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,

"Starlink doesn't publicize all the maneuvers that they're making, but it is believed that they are making a lot of small corrections and adjustments all the time. But that causes problems for everybody else because no one knows where the satellite is going to be and what it is going to do in the next few days."

Frequently Asked Questions On SpaceX Starlink Satellites

1. How many satellites are in SpaceX Starlink?

60 Starlink satellites stacked together before deployment on 24 May 2019. SpaceX is a US based company.

2. How much will SpaceX Starlink cost?

The beta service of Starlink arrives with a price tag of $99 every month. There's also a $499 upfront fee to cover the Starlink Kit, which involves all of the required hardware, such as a router, small satellite dish, mounting tripod, and power supply.

3. When can I see SpaceX satellites?

The SpaceX Starlink satellites are sometimes seen in the initial few minutes after sunsets and before sunrise when the sun is under the horizon, but the satellites are high enough to reflect direct sunlight.
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Sophia Silva

When it comes to reporting about new technology or innovation, nobody is better than Sophia Silva who has been nurturing technology and innovation for the last 10 years.

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