WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- With Starlink preparing to launch a total of 12,000 satellites, a scientist warned that the “megaconstellation” could account for about 90% of near misses in the Earth’s orbit.
- Near misses involve two spacecraft passing within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of each other.
- Space debris expert Hugh Lewis pointed out that the current Starlink satellites already account for 50% of near misses.
A scientist and space debris expert has predicted that the 12,000-satellite “megaconstellation” planned by Starlink could account for 9 in 10 near misses between spacecraft in the Earth’s orbit.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX owns Starlink, which aims to provide “the world’s most advanced broadband internet system.”
Professor Hugh Lewis of the University of Southampton told Space.com that Starlink’s current satellites, which total to about 1,700, already account for about half of all near misses.
When two spacecraft in the Earth’s orbit pass within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of each other, it is called a near miss.
Other scientists have previously expressed their concerns over the growing number of satellites being sent into orbit, since this increases the likelihood of collisions and could even potentially trigger a chain reaction of multiple collisions.
Currently, satellite orbits and their expected trajectory is monitored by the Satellite Orbital Conjunction Reports Assessing Threatening Encounters in Space (Socrates) to assess collision risk. Lewis examined its data from May 2019, the launch date of Starlink’s first batch of satellites.
Lewis found that Starlink satellites were responsible for 1,600 close encounters between two spacecraft each week. Of these, 1,100 were near misses involving two Starlink satellites.
That figure has since “more than doubled,” Lewis said, which meant that Starlink satellites now account for “half of all encounters.”