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ESA Demands Better Space Traffic Rules After Avoided Collison with SpaceX Satellite

SpaceX has launched the first few dozen of what will ultimately become a swarm of thousands of satellites. A few…

By Emelia Murison , in News Space , at September 7, 2019 8:15 AM EDT Tags: , ,

SpaceX has launched the first few dozen of what will ultimately become a swarm of thousands of satellites. A few days ago, the ESA needed to perform the first-ever satellite flight maneuver to avoid clashing with a SpaceX Starlink satellite. This has prompted experts to urge a universal space traffic control system to prevent future accidents.

SpaceX plans to make use of its Starlink satellite network to ship broadband web access to Earth and deployed 60 of them earlier this year. That’s just the start, though. Elon Musk and firm plan to have about 2,000 satellites in space by the end of this year. Ultimately, the SpaceX “mega constellation” will include over 12,000 satellites. SpaceX isn’t the one firm planning to launch massive fleets of satellites, either. Firms like OneWeb and Kuiper plan to have extensive networks in Earth orbit soon.

Regardless of the hugeness of Space, the ESA’s Aeolus satellite found itself on a possible clash path with Starlink 44 earlier this week. The chance of an accident was about 1 in 1,000; however, that’s ten times higher than the ESA’s acceptable risk level. That’s not great; however, the real concern is the ESA was unable to contact SpaceX operators to talk about the issue. The agency determined to alter Aeolus’ course to be safe, and no satellites were damaged.

SpaceX says a glitch in its on-call paging system prevented delegates from seeing the ESA’s messages. The corporate had last communicated with the ESA several days before when the estimated chance of crash was orders of magnitude less likely. Nevertheless, all this communication happens over email, and the ESA contends this is a dangerously inefficient way to handle space traffic in the period of mega-constellations.