Space Traffic Management Issues Increase Collision Risk for Satellites

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Performing evasive maneuvers increases satellites’ collision risk down the road

  • Current methods of space traffic management are inadequate for the growing number of satellites in space
  • After every satellite collision avoidance maneuver, operators and space traffic observers have only a rough idea of where their objects are
  • The difference between an assumed position of a satellite and its actual location can be as large as 25 miles
  • Satellites orbiting Earth may soon be forced to perform millions of collision avoidance maneuvers every year
  • Performing evasive maneuvers increases satellites’ collision risk down the road

    Researchers have found that trying to avoid collisions in orbit increases the risk of future collisions in the aftermath of each avoidance maneuver. The reason? Current methods of space traffic management can’t adequately deal with the growing numbers of satellites in space.

    The Growing Number of Satellites in Space

    With the growing amount of stuff in orbit – functional satellites and space junk alike – uncertainties in satellite positions cause concerns. For example, satellites of SpaceX’s Starlink internet megaconstellation had to perform a combined 25,000 collision avoidance maneuvers in a six-month period.

    The Risk of Devastating Crashes

    Soon, satellites orbiting Earth may be forced to perform millions of collision avoidance maneuvers every year. And with inaccurate data rolling in after every such move, devastating crashes could easily occur.

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