Currently, the tally of SpaceX’s satellites in space under the Starlink constellation program comes to about 900, with the company preparing to raise the number to 12000 before eventually reaching 42000 by 2030. This constellation will facilitate the spread of […]
Currently, the tally of SpaceX’s satellites in space under the Starlink constellation program comes to about 900, with the company preparing to raise the number to 12000 before eventually reaching 42000 by 2030. This constellation will facilitate the spread of the 5G internet coverage for all users globally. The plan is already working with SpaceX’s chief executive, Elon Musk, reporting that a trial of the program is underway in Southern Canada. He added that the other countries would follow up after more satellites clicking into the constellation and authenticated by the concerned nations.
Nevertheless, the plan is experiencing a new challenge that should have been avoidable. Typically, a satellite is expected to navigate through space courtesy of its ion engine and exit space to combust in the Earth’s atmosphere. However, cases of satellites moving uncontrollably due to communication hitches have stirred up fear among astronauts who explore space and those who control them.
According to the analysis conducted by astronomer Johnathan McDowell of Harvard’s Smithsonian Center, close to 3 percent of the 900 satellites launched by SpaceX have succumbed to failure. McDowell explained that the failure is not alarming as a mega-company but may come with irrevocable problems. For instance, the uncontrollable satellites may ram into oncoming space vehicle or form debris and accumulate in space.
The problem is that SpaceX does not declare the number of satellites that have deorbited their path due to technical problems. Consequently, astronomers have to analyze the data from space by themselves to determine the defects that such space companies leave unreported to maintain their reputation at other explorers’ expense. Nonetheless, it appears that the reliability of these satellites has grown over time. This move comes after studies indicating that an actual failure rate of 3% would result in the death of over 1200 people in the world. SpaceX explained that its satellites have a natural way of deorbiting and burning out in space, although this process may take close to half a decade. The challenge with these failed satellites is that they orbit the Earth at high speed and may ram into any spacecraft entering space, causing catastrophic accidents.
SpaceX was keen to understate the risk that such failures cause in space by reporting to the Federal Communications Commission that their satellites will not have even one percent failure rate. The company also added that the possibility of the defunct debris of SpaceX’s satellite coming into contact with other space vehicles is approximately 1%. A recent simulation by Analytical Graphics Inc. Indicated that the satellite debris that accumulates in space are immovable. So, they eventually gravitate towards other things in space like the International Space Station.
To sum up, although SpaceX is still at the induction phase of the Starlink constellation, the problem posed by one of the satellites alarmed the European Space Agency to maneuver its satellite around the debris created. This move is indicative of the danger that the constellation could generate once it takes shape.