Summary List Placement
SpaceX is launching satellites into space by the dozens to realize Starlink, a globe-encircling constellation of spacecraft that beam affordable, high-speed internet across Earth.
So far, the scheme — envisioned by SpaceX founder Elon Musk — seems to be working. The aerospace company even plans to open a public beta test across the northern US and southern Canada, Musk tweeted on October 8, possibly within the next few months.
“Other countries to follow as soon as we receive regulatory approval,” he added.
However, the unprecedented project has left a trail of seemingly unresponsive spacecraft in its wake. All of the satellites are designed to be maneuverable in space using an ion engine, and even deorbit themselves back to Earth. But satellites with malfunctioning communication or propulsion systems can fly uncontrolled and pose a hazard to other satellites, and even astronauts, circling Earth.
SpaceX launched its first batch of 60 prototypes in May 2019 and, to date, has flown 775 total Starlink internet satellites. But so far around 3% of those spacecraft may have failed, according to data collected by Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“I would say their failure rate is not egregious,” McDowell told Business Insider. “It’s not worse than anybody else’s failure rates. The concern is that even a normal failure rate in such a huge constellation is going to end up with a lot of bad space junk.”
Some of those failures may be intentional tests, but how many (if any) is not publicly known because SpaceX hasn’t released such information. As a result, astronomers like McDowell have resorted to analyzing satellite-movement data gleaned from SpaceX and the US government, showing which Starlink satellites have fallen back toward Earth and which ones are not maneuvering. (The 3% apparent failure rate does not include 45 satellites that SpaceX is known to have intentionally deorbited.)
SpaceX has permission from the US government to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites, though it’s asked to launch 30,000 more for a total of nearly 42,000. In either case, SpaceX is on track to form a “megaconstellation” that outnumbers all prior spacecraft ever launched by humanity. If 3% of the maximum planned Starlink constellation fails, that could mean 1,260 dead, 550-pound satellites the size of a desk aimlessly circling the planet.
There were about 3,200 nonfunctional satellites in Earth’s orbit as of February, according to the European Space Agency. Many of these dead spacecraft regularly threaten to collide with others and create a space-debris crisis. This week, for example, satellite trackers flagged a “very high risk” close pass between a dead satellite and a discarded rocket body, with one company calculating a 10% chance of collision. (They didn’t collide, after all.)
SpaceX says its satellites will naturally deorbit, or burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, if their propulsion systems don’t work. But that process can take up to five years, according to Starlink’s website. In the meantime, defunct satellites rocket around …read more
Source:: Business Insider – Tech