SpaceX, NASA Sign Agreement to Avoid Space Collisions

SpaceX, NASA Sign Agreement to Avoid Space Collisions

SpaceX is one of several companies that want to launch megaconstallations of communication satellites into Earth orbit, and that has NASA and other space agencies a little spooked. With that many new objects up there, the chances of a collision skyrocket. SpaceX now has more than 1,000 Starlink nodes around Earth, and NASA has announced an agreement that will ensure those satellites (and future ones) don’t get in the way of any of its missions.

The accord, which has just been released by NASA (PDF), is what’s known as a “nonreimbursable agreement.” That means no money changes hands, but both parties are getting something they want. The document explains that SpaceX is in a unique position right now, and that gives NASA authority under the Space Act to negotiate an agreement that ensures it can fulfill its mission.

SpaceX is the largest satellite operator in the world, and its access to cheap Falcon 9 launches essentially guarantees its network will grow quicker than the ones planned by Amazon and others. In addition, all of its satellites are maneuverable. So, SpaceX will commit to reorienting its constellation to avoid any possible “conjunctions” with NASA assets. It will also tell NASA about upcoming “cut-outs” when Starlink satellites are unable to maneuver to avoid a collision. This is mostly the time between the deployment of satellites and when they reach their assigned orbit. SpaceX will also make some changes to its launches to ensure Starlink satellites never get too close to the International Space Station.

Deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/AMLK4R9dMn

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 14, 2021

On the other side, NASA says it will provide detailed data about where all its spacecraft will be, allowing SpaceX to steer clear. It will also contribute expertise to making Starlink satellites less reflective, something that has irked astronomers and astrophotographers ever since SpaceX started launching the constellation. Although, SpaceX is expected to share data with NASA on the effectiveness of its ongoing satellite dimming work.

This is more than a theoretical risk — in 2019, the ESA called for more stringent rules about how megaconstallations share the skies after it had to redirect its Aeolus satellite to avoid colliding with a Starlink node. There was no effective way to tell SpaceX what was happening, and the danger will only become more serious as the industry scales up to thousands of satellites.

Continue reading

NASA Created a Collection of Spooky Space Sounds for Halloween
NASA Created a Collection of Spooky Space Sounds for Halloween

NASA's latest data release turns signals from beyond Earth into spooky sounds that are sure to send a chill up your spine.

SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta
SpaceX Launches ‘Better Than Nothing’ Starlink Beta

Those lucky few who have gotten invitations to try the service will have to pay a hefty up-front cost, and the speeds aren't amazing. Still, it's a new generation of satellite internet.

Beyond Zoom: Virtual Gathering Spaces for the Holidays and Beyond
Beyond Zoom: Virtual Gathering Spaces for the Holidays and Beyond

Software is not yet available for a complete metaverse experience, but there are some promising new communication platforms that might provide an intermediate step between Zoom and a full-blown metaverse.

NASA Begins Assembling Spacecraft to Study Enormous Metallic Asteroid
NASA Begins Assembling Spacecraft to Study Enormous Metallic Asteroid

Next year, this piece of hardware will ride a SpaceX rocket into orbit, and then it's off to the asteroid belt to study its namesake, the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche.