A few days ago the press was full of stories of a near collision between two orbiting satellites, one from SpaceX’s Starlink and the other from OneWeb. There was talk of barely 60 metres between the two satellites.
“Not so,” stated SpaceX in a submission to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), insisting that there was no “close call” between Starlink and OneWeb. The “satellites would not have collided even if no [avoidance] manoeuvre had been conducted”, the letter said.
Indeed, the letter from Starlink said the actual distance was more than 1000 metres which was neither a ‘close call’ nor ‘urgent’.
The April 20th letter to the FCC gave a highly detailed explanation as to the reported near miss, and included an accurate chronology of events that demonstrates the coordination between Starlink and OneWeb was successful and there was never a risk of collision.
Moreover, the much-criticised information that SpaceX had “turned off” its autonomous collision avoidance system had only been suspended at “OneWeb’s explicit request after OneWeb decided to conduct a manoeuvre”.
The Starlink letter to the FCC pulls no punches and accuses OneWeb of deliberately choosing to publicly misstate the circumstances of the coordination. Starlink stated that it welcomed OneWeb’s retraction of its previous incorrect statements on the event.
“These tactics are just the latest escalation of a disturbing trend by non-US operators to influence US regulators and policy makers with respect to space safety. Similarly, Viasat has been making misrepresentations about space safety and demanding unilateral restrictions on competitors in scores of Commission filings and public statements. At the same time, both Viasat and OneWeb have argued forcefully that they should be exempt from Commission rules for orbital debris mitigation due to their status as non-US operators,” stated the Starlink letter.