A European Space Agency (ESA) researcher says that the impending launch of the first batch of Elon Musk’s ‘Starlink’ Low Earth orbiting satellites could herald the start of the Kessler Syndrome, and turn space into a dangerous minefield.
The Kessler effect talks about two satellites colliding in orbit, and that then kick-starting other collisions in space, and leading to ever-more debris in space.
The syndrome was named after a ‘worst case’ scenario imagined by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978. He forecast that high-density deployment of satellites could cause a cascade effect, and where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions in space.
Elon Musk’s launch of an initial 60 satellites is a worry for the ESA’s Stijn Lemmens, who told Scientific American that a business could launch all its satellites, then go bankrupt, and the satellites stay in space. “Then you have thousands of new satellites without a plan of getting them out of there. And you would have a Kessler-type of syndrome.”
The Kessler effect has also been analysed by MIT’s Technology Review which in something of a ‘doomsday’ prediction says there could be a potential 67,000 collisions per year.
That threat is not just down to SpaceX or any of the other would-be operators of satellites in space. But when the likes of Amazon, OneWeb, Telesat, LeoSat and others intending placing – between them – thousands of satellites into orbit then the risks become greater.
And the reality is that back in 2009 an Iridium 33 satellites crashed into a defunct Russian Kosmos 2251 satellite and in the process created thousands of pieces of debris. Add in China (2007) or Indian (on March 27th) deliberate destructions of their own satellites and those risks are further multiplied.