NASA is among the big companies worried about SpaceX’s plan to deploy around 30,000 satellites for its Starlink, fearing they could crash into other objects orbiting Earth.
Elon Musks SpaceX previously received approval to offer high-speed internet from 12,000 satellites and has since sought approval for a second-generation constellation of 30,000 satellites.
In a statement to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Nasa said he “is concerned about the potential for a significant increase in the frequency of conjunction events”.
The US space agency has also expressed concern about possible impacts on its science and human spaceflight missions.
There are currently 25,000 total objects tracked in orbit – and about 6,100 within 600 km, NASA noted.
SpaceX’s Gen2 expansion “would more than double the number of tracked objects in orbit and increase the number of objects within 600 km by a factor of five,” he said.
Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who is on the American Astronomical Society’s panel examining the impacts of satellites on astronomy, said: “We have been concerned that these large numbers of satellites are interfering with astronomical observations”.
He added: “I think we need a bit more experience with the several thousand satellites in operation before
we can go up to tens of thousands.”
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
On Jan. 15, business mogul Musk tweeted that SpaceX had 1,469 active Starlink satellites and 272 soon moving into operational orbits.
Amazon.com also raised concerns with the FCC about SpaceX’s plan, as did Dish Network.
Amazon, which has pledged to spend at least $10bn (£7bn) to build 3,236 such satellites under its Project Kuiper programme, said “at least hundreds and potentially more 10,000 SpaceX satellites could operate at the same altitudes as the Kuiper system.” under the SpaceX app.
He also warned that “the effect of this orbital overlap would be a dramatic increase in risk and other burdens on the Kuiper System”, and then asked the FCC to impose “reasonable conditions”.
In addition, SpaceX has confirmed that a geomagnetic storm destroyed most Starlink satellites it was launched last Friday.
It said 40 of its 49 satellites will fall back to Earth – despite being designed to burn up on re-entry – after a space storm “significantly impacted” them.
They were part of a planned constellation of satellites intended to eventually provide constant internet coverage for most of the world.
Satellite technology, although extremely expensive to deploy, can provide high-speed Internet access to people who live in remote or hard-to-reach places.
It can also be a critical safety net when hurricanes or other natural disasters disrupt communication.