Satellite Mega-Constellations Stir a Debate Over Avoiding Catastrophic Orbital Crashes

GeekWire has the details:

The retired commander of the U.S. Strategic Command says the tens of thousands of satellites that SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon are planning to put into orbit over the next few years will require a new automated system for space traffic management — and perhaps new satellite hardware requirements as well.

Retired Gen. Kevin Chilton laid out his ideas for dealing with potentially catastrophic orbital traffic jams at the University of Washington on Friday, during the inaugural symposium presented by UW’s Space Policy and Research Center.

“We need to develop technologies that will improve space domain awareness, that will enable autonomous systems onboard satellites to automatically maneuver so as to avoid collision with another satellite, or with a known piece of man-made debris,” he said.

The issue is expected to become increasingly critical as commercial ventures deploy more satellites into low Earth orbit, or LEO, to widen broadband internet access to the billions of people around the world who are currently underserved. An estimated 2,200 active satellites are in orbit today, but if all the plans come to pass, that figure could go beyond 45,000 in the years ahead.

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Money Quote:

Today the Los Angeles Times quoted SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell as saying that the company will take pre-sales for customer service, adopting a strategy that CEO Elon Musk has used for electric cars at Tesla, his other multibillion-dollar venture. Amazon’s Project Kuiper, meanwhile, is likely to follow a different business model: using its satellite data service to boost online sales well as its AWS cloud service, Alexa AI services and Amazon Prime Video.

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