If collisions between satellites are rare to such an extent that only one has occurred in history, the multiplication of these objects in orbit increases the risks. NASA and SpaceX have therefore made an unprecedented agreement. The two parties will thus collaborate to avoid potential future collisions.
More risk in the future because of satellites
In 2019, the European Space Agency (ESA) carried out a maneuver in space in order to avoid a SpaceX satellite. According to the agency, the risk of collision was one in 1,000 and one in 591 for SpaceX. If this affair had caused a stir, the worst was avoided. Moreover, only one collision between two satellites has already taken place in history. In 2009, the Iridium-33 (United States) and Kosmos-2251 (Russia) satellites collided 776 km above the Taimyr Peninsula (Siberia).
While satellite constellation projects are underway, mainly SpaceX’s Starlink project, it seems wise to do everything to avoid potential future collisions. There were already exchanges, but obviously it was necessary to strengthen them. A NASA press release published on March 19, 2021 refers to a agreement with SpaceX.
“This agreement enables a higher level of coordination, cooperation and data sharing to be achieved, and defines the arrangement, responsibilities and procedures for the coordination of flight safety”, can we read in the document.
NASA wants to protect its fleet
NASA therefore wishes to achieve exchange in a finer way with SpaceX in order to avoid dangerous rapprochements between satellites. This can happen in orbit, but also at the time of the launch of new satellites as well as during “carpooling flights”, the purpose of which is to put several satellites into orbit at once. Recall that Elon Musk’s company ultimately wishes to place thousands, even tens of thousands of objects in orbit and that NASA has its own fleet of satellites which it logically wishes to protect.
Today, Earth’s orbit would contain around 30,000 space debris larger than 20 cm. However, these represent a threat for other satellites, but also for manned missions, in particular to the International Space Station (ISS). The fact is that this debris is liable to collide with each other and therefore to generate more fragments. This collaboration will thus make it possible not to further aggravate a situation which is already largely worrying.