December 6, 2023

The cloud of debris from Russia’s anti-satellite missile test last year continues to pose an orbital hazard to SpaceX’s Starlink system.

The company told the FCC last week: “SpaceX is now maneuvering more through the debris of Cosmos 1408 than any other objects in space.”

Cosmos 1408(Opens in a new window) It refers to a satellite that the Russian military decided to destroy in a controversial missile test last November. The resulting impact sent thousands of pieces of debris scattered through Earth’s orbit at speeds capable of destroying other satellites in orbit.

At the time, SpaceX changed the orbits of the company’s Starlink satellites, which currently number more than 2,300. Last Friday, SpaceX provided the Federal Communications Commission with an update on the situation with a report covering the performance of the Starlink constellation between December and May.

according to Report(Opens in a new window)During the six-month period, SpaceX conducted 6,873 maneuvers with Starlink satellites. The bulk of those maneuvers were focused on avoiding orbital debris from the Kosmos 1408 missile test.

“In fact, during the reporting period, the SpaceX satellites maneuvered more than 1,700 times in order to wreck Cosmos 1408,” the company said. However, the Starlink satellite’s collision system “was deftly able to adapt to and absorb such a large flow of debris.”

Debris from Cosmos 1408 is expected to remain a tropical hazard for years, if not decades. according to(Opens in a new window) For LEO laboratories, much of the debris also occupies an altitude of 300 to 800 km, while the Starlink satellites orbit in the same range at an altitude of about 550 km.

Currently, SpaceX has indicated that none of the 6,873 maneuvers it has conducted with Starlink have led to any collisions. In addition, the company will only begin maneuvering the satellite if the probability of collision is greater than a 1 in 100,000 chance. However, the company warns the FCC that more must be done to keep the space safe.

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“SpaceX reiterates that it cannot maintain a sustainable orbital environment unilaterally and without the participation of non-US companies; no operator, and virtually no country, can do this.” As a result, SpaceX urges other satellite operators to do so. It also provides transparency reports to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“Only with all operators working together can we truly preserve the space environment for future operations and human spaceflight,” the company said.

The report also notes that SpaceX has de-orbited and disposed of dozens of Starlink satellites during the six-month period. The company did not explicitly state the reason, but the report says, “SpaceX has a tendency to eliminate satellite rotation and replace it whenever that will improve service for consumers on Earth or enhance the sustainability of space.”

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