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NASA unsettled by Starlink plans

February 11, 2022

NASA, by and large, has a cordial relationship with Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket business. The space agency is a major client for SpaceX and an enthusiastic supporter where it has committed millions of dollars to SpaceX for its launch system and rocket connectivity to the International Space Station. But now, it is complaining about Starlink.

NASA, in a letter to the FCC, said that a Starlink system of 30,000 (or more) satellites would represent a “significant increase” in risks to orbital collisions and interfere with NASA’s launches and missions and its scientific options.

NASA submitted a 5-page letter to the FCC on February 8th, specifically referencing Musk’s second-generation non-geostationary orbit satellite system.

“With the increase in large constellation proposals to the FCC, NASA has concerns with the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events and possible impacts to NASA’s science and human spaceflight missions. Consequently, NASA submits this letter for the purpose of providing a better understanding of NASA’s concerns with respect to its assets on-orbit, and to further mitigate the risk of collisions for the benefit of all involved. NASA wants to ensure that the deployment of the Starlink Gen 2 system is conducted prudently, in a manner that supports spaceflight safety and the long-term sustainability of the space environment. Recognizing the importance of space flight safety and ensuring a sustainable space environment, NASA has provided similar comments in response to other proposed large constellations,” said NASA’s letter.

NASA added: “There are currently ~25,000 total objects tracked on-orbit. About 6,100 of those objects have a perigee below 600 km. SpaceX’s Gen2 expansion would more than double the number of tracked objects in orbit and increase the number of objects below 600 km over five-fold, without factoring in growth from other proposed constellations. An increase of this magnitude into these confined altitude bands inherently brings additional risk of debris-generating collision events based on the number of objects alone.”

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