Elon Musk minimizes the risk of orbital disorder posed by his satellites

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[EN VIDÉO] How many satellites revolve around the Earth?
2,787 satellites were operational as of December 31, 2020, according to the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) association, more than half of which were launched by the United States. Three quarters of the satellites in operation rotate in low orbit (between 500 and 2,000 km altitude), and are used for telecommunications systems, terrestrial imaging or meteorology.

the information site SpaceDaily posted a very interesting article that reports the point of view ofElon Musk about the orbital disturbance that could cause, therefore, in the conditional, the satellites of the starlink constellation from SpaceX. In an interview in Financial Times, Elon Musk, never in half measures, responded to the numerous claims that satellites star link of your company take up a lot of space in theorbit earth, claiming that ” tens of billions of spacecraft could fit into orbits close to Earth!

Musk explained that because space is ” just extremely big and that the satellites that he sends there are very small », the situation is not as disastrous as it seems. ” This is not a situation where we really block others in any way. We don’t stop anyone from doing anything, and we don’t intend to. “, he added. According to him, each orbital “shell” that circles the Earth is larger than the surface of the planet, with another shell every 10 meters or so in space, which he says would allow these ” tens of billions of satellites to revolve around the Earth in complete serenity. According to Elon Musk, there is enough space for tens of billions of satellites and “ a few thousand satellites is nothing “.

Elon Musk says there is room for tens of billions of satellites and ‘a few thousand satellites are nothing’

This statement by Musk was obviously disputed by many experts in managing the space traffic. According to Jonathan McDowell, astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Massachusetts, USA), satellites moving at nearly 28,000 km/h need a lot more space to have time to change their orbits if a collision seems possible “. The expert calculated that in this speeda three-second interval would place only about 1,000 satellites in each orbit.

How complex is it to determine the trajectory of such a large number of distinct satellites in relation to each other, and how variations in the weather forecast change their trajectories, the risks of potential collisions are difficult to predict. And when that risk arises, which does not mean that a collision is certain, but that two satellites threaten to cross each other less than a kilometer away, the day will come when it will be too late to perform an evasion maneuver.

Density of space traffic can prevent astronauts from living and working safely

But these problems are not the only ones that concern space agencies and space users. The megaconstellations that will eventually unfold with hundreds of thousands of small satellites by 2030 could seriously complicate human activity in low orbit.

In this horizon, in fact, it is estimated that there may be more or less 4,000 satellites going up and down (end of life, breakage, de-orbiting). A chain of satellites that must be constantly monitored and avoided! Under these conditions, the probability of losing a active astronaut in the next ten years is one chance in sixty!

In conclusion, and everyone agrees, this is simply a traffic management problem and there is an urgent need to provide the space with a binding “road code”, capable of regulating space traffic on its own. That is what the European Commission is proposing with the Spaceways Project that Telespazio directs.

Chinese space station forced to maneuver to avoid Starlink satellites

article of Remy Decourt posted on December 29, 2021

The chinese space station would have been obliged to correct its trajectory twice to avoid the risk of collision with a satellite of the constellation Starlink by SpaceX. A situation that shows the urgency of providing space with a “road code” to manage space traffic, as the European Commission intends with the Spaceways project.

In a document recently released by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, China informed the UN Secretary-General that, twice, satellites from the starlink constellation from SpaceX have “ consisting of the dangers to the life or health of astronauts aboard the Chinese space station “. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian added a layer of this on Tuesday, pointing out that the ” The United States ignores its obligations under international treaties, which poses a serious threat to the life and safety of astronauts. “.

In other words, China accuses SpaceX of irresponsible and dangerous conduct in space and the United States of lax management of its space activities. Accusations that might make you smile when you know the Chinese military is responsible for thousands of wreckage after a crash test missile anti-satellite carried out in January 2007. Located at an altitude of about 800 kilometers, a broken Chinese weather satellite had been destroyed by a missile generating a profusion of debris that, for once, is much more dangerous than the Starlink satellites. because less predictable and maneuverable.

That said, there’s no denying that the hundreds of Starlink satellites already in orbit have increased the number of collision risks since the constellation’s deployment began. The Chinese space station, currently occupied by a crew of three taikonauts, which is in a nearly circular orbit at an altitude of about 390 kilometers with an orbit inclination of about 41.5 degrees, is no more exposed than other space users. In September 2019, theEuropean Space Agency had been forced to maneuver the Aeolus satellite to avoid a Starlink satellite. But as China knows how to be heard and respected, the controversy grew quickly in the social media Chinese.

It is not surprising, therefore, that, as China points out, two of them met in July and October on a trajectory that could, in theory, lead them to collide with the Chinese space station. In theory, because we’ve identified a collision risk when a satellite can approach within a few kilometers of an object it could hit. Strictly speaking, neither of the two Starlink satellites blamed by China was heading straight for the Chinese space station. However, this situation highlights the need to quickly establish a space traffic management system to regulate human activities in space. That is what the European Commission is proposing with the Spaceways Project that Telespazio directs.

Two collision avoidance maneuvers

Find below information regarding the two collision avoidance maneuvers carried out by the Chinese space station presented by China to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

As of April 19, 2020, the Starlink-1095 satellite has been moving stably in orbit at an average altitude of about 555 kilometers. Between May 16 and June 24, 2021, the Starlink-1095 satellite continuously maneuvered into an orbit of approximately 382 kilometers and then remained in that orbit. The rapprochement took place between the Starlink-1095 satellite and the Chinese space station in 1er July 2021. For safety reasons, the Chinese space station took the initiative to perform an evasive maneuver in the evening of that day to avoid a potential collision between the two spacecraft.

The second collision avoidance was potentially more dangerous. On October 21, 2021, the Starlink-2305 satellite approached the Chinese space station. As the satellite was in continuous manoeuvring, the maneuvering strategy was unknown and the orbital errors were difficult to assess, therefore there was a risk of collision between the Starlink-2305 satellite and the Chinese space station. To ensure the safety and life of astronauts in orbit, China’s space station performed a new evasive maneuver on the same day to avoid a possible collision between the two spacecraft.

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