Science

Space agency satellite forced to dodge SpaceX ‘mega constellation’ orbiting Earth

Space agency satellite forced to dodge SpaceX ‘mega constellation’ orbiting Earth”

The European Space Agency has said it altered the trajectory of one of its observation satellites to avoid a collision with a craft operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX.

ESA took action after learning from the USA military that the probability of a collision was 1 in 1,000 - 10 times higher than ESA's threshold for conducting a collision-avoidance maneuver - Forbes reported yesterday.

In a series of Tweets, the European Space Agency said it calculated the risk the SpaceX Starlink satellite constellation and the Aeolus satellite would collide and determined the safest option was for the Aeolus to increase altitude and pass over the SpaceX satellite.

Several experts are concerned about the increase in space debris that SpaceX's Starlink constellation will contribute.

The maneuver was successful, with the ESA satellite "calling home as usual to send back its science data" after readjusting its orbit, the agency said. A study by NASA recommended that future satellites be taken out of orbit as soon as they complete their missions in order to keep the risk of in-space collisions to a low.

"It is very rare to perform collision-avoidance manoeuvres with active satellites".

The incident serves as a timely reminder of the risks of flinging up thousands of small satellites to blanket the Earth with all manner of services. "The vast majority of ESA avoidance maneuvers are the result of dead satellites or fragments from previous collisions", ESA said in the Tweet.

Those constellations are purported by SpaceX to feature thousands of satellites.

Instead, ESA plans to make this process automatic, relying on artificial intelligence to move satellites out of danger. However, there are no laws about space traffic and what regions satellites can occupy. The Starlink team last exchanged emails with Aeolus' handlers on August 28, when the collision risk was in the 1-in-50,000 range, SpaceX representatives told Space.com.

Mr Krag claims SpaceX informed them via email - the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. "It was at least clear who had to react".



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