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ESA shifts spacecraft to avoid a Starlink satellite; SpaceX reports ‘bug’ in collision warning system

3 Sep 2019, 17:58 UTC
ESA shifts spacecraft to avoid a Starlink satellite; SpaceX reports ‘bug’ in collision warning system
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A computer-generated diagram shows the projected orbital paths of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite and the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite. (ESA Graphic via Twitter)
The European Space Agency says it performed a collision avoidance maneuver over the Labor Day weekend to head off a potential crash between its Aeolus wind-measuring satellite and one of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband data satellites.
In a series of tweets, ESA said Monday’s event marked the first such maneuver taken to avoid an active satellite in what’s expected to become a “mega constellation” of thousands of satellites — and it warned that such maneuvers posed a grave challenge for future orbital traffic management.
“As the number of satellites in orbit increases … today’s ‘manual’ collision avoidance process will become impossible,” ESA tweeted.
The space agency said the maneuver was executed successfully about half an orbit before the close encounter.
One point of controversy relates to how satellite operators respond to potentially shifting assessments of orbital collision risks. For example, should SpaceX have maneuvered its satellite, which was descending through Aeolus’ altitude as part of a deorbit test?
In a statement sent via email today, SpaceX acknowledged that it would have taken more action if it weren’t for ...

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