NASA is opposing SpaceX’s proposal to launch 30,000 satellites for Starlink, citing fears that the orbital network may interfere with the space agency’s activities.
NASA’s concerns centre on SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network, for which the corporation must get approval from the Federal Communications Commission before launching the satellites. The space agency filed a seven-page document with the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday describing the hazards of the 30,000-satellite network generating congestion in Earth’s orbit.
“NASA wants to guarantee that the Starlink Gen 2 system is deployed sensibly, in a way that promotes spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment,” the agency said. CNBC broke the storey first.
One of NASA’s primary worries about the 30,000 satellites is the possibility that they could crash into other space objects. To prevent this, SpaceX equipped the satellites with an automated anti-collision mechanism capable of manoeuvring them away from potential collisions. NASA, on the other hand, is sceptical of the company’s assertion that there is “zero danger” that the satellites would ever cause an orbital collision, particularly given the company’s plans for more huge satellite constellations.
“With the possibility of multiple constellations containing thousands or tens of thousands of spacecraft, it is not recommended to assume that propulsion systems, ground detection systems, and software are completely reliable or that manual operation (if any) are completely error-free,” NASA told the FCC.
Another fear is that Starlink satellites may reflect too much sunlight, obstructing space observatories’ observations of Earth’s climate and ground-based telescopes’ detection of near-Earth asteroids.
“With the addition of 30,000 Starlink satellites as described in the Gen2 amendment request, NASA estimates that a Starlink would be present in every asteroid survey image taken for planetary defence against hazardous asteroid impacts, reducing the effectiveness of asteroid surveys by rendering portions of images unusable,” the agency added. A similar issue has been highlighted by the astronomy community.
“This will allow a complete review of risks and implications to NASA’s missions, as well as the development of a mitigation plan,” the statement said.
NASA also emphasises that it has made similar concerns to the Federal Communications Commission about other big satellite constellations. “With the increased number of big constellation applications to the FCC, NASA is concerned about the possibility of a considerable increase in the frequency of conjunction occurrences and their potential effect on NASA’s scientific and human spaceflight missions,” the agency noted.
The submission came on the same day that many SpaceX competitors expressed reservations about the size of the second-generation network. However, SpaceX is expecting that the FCC will approve its satellite constellation plan quickly, allowing it to launch the first satellites as soon as next month. Additionally, NASA is concerned that the second-generation network may make it more difficult to launch spacecraft to the International Space Station since about 20,000 Starlink satellites will orbit underneath it.
The space agency, on the other hand, is not opposed to SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink network. Rather than that, NASA is requesting further proof that SpaceX’s satellite mega-constellations will not impede the space agency’s operations in the future. For example, NASA is suggesting that SpaceX publish a study demonstrating that the Starlink satellites’ auto-manoeuvre capabilities are “sufficiently scalable to the anticipated constellation size.” Additionally, the EPA is asking for additional technical information on SpaceX’s second-generation Starlink satellites.