The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is concerned about the potential risks posed by SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, while SpaceX is dismissive of these concerns.
The Starlink satellites are designed to operate in low-Earth orbit for approximately five years before deorbiting and burning up completely in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, the FAA believes that there is a significant risk that some Starlink satellites or their debris could survive re-entry and impact the Earth, potentially causing harm to people or property.
In a report released to Congress last week, the agency estimated that by 2035, approximately 28,000 pieces of Starlink debris could impact the Earth each year. They also estimated that there is a 61% chance of a person being killed by a piece of Starlink debris each year, and a 0.07% chance of an aircraft being struck by a piece of Starlink debris each year.
SpaceX has dismissed these concerns, arguing that the risk of Starlink debris harming people or property is extremely low. SpaceX has also stated that it is taking steps to mitigate the risk of Starlink debris, such as by designing the satellites to break up into smaller pieces during re-entry.
SpaceX, which has launched 5,000 satellites and plans to launch thousands more, has criticized the FAA’s analysis of the risks posed by Starlink satellites. SpaceX calls the FAA’s analysis “flawed” and “based on incorrect assumptions.”
SpaceX specifically criticizes the agency for relying on a 23-year-old study that focused on satellites made of different materials and that were not designed to deorbit safely. SpaceX also points out that it has already deorbited 325 satellites without any debris being found, which contradicts the FAA’s estimate that thousands of pieces of Starlink debris could bombard the Earth’s surface each year.
The FAA and SpaceX are currently in discussions about the risks posed by Starlink satellites. It remains to be seen whether the two parties will be able to reach an agreement on how to mitigate these risks.
Reference- SpaceX website, Futurism, FAA website, Ars Technica