SpaceX already has more than 1000 Starlink satellites in orbit, but that’s only a tiny part of the complete constellation the company plans to deploy. While he initially asked the FCC for authorization to launch 12,000 satellites, he could have up to 42,000 in orbit in a few decades. Since these satellites could collide with other spacecraft in orbit – and having so many increases the chances of an accident happening – NASA and SpaceX have sign (PDF) a joint agreement with the aim of preventing their assets from crashing into each other.
As TechCrunch Note, NASA is already working with other entities that launch objects into orbit using a standard conjunction assessment process that determines the risks of a close and rapid approach between objects in space. This deal with SpaceX will ensure, however, that they will actively work together in the years to come to actively prevent collisions from occurring.
NASA has agreed to provide SpaceX with information about its missions in advance, as well as not to move its assets in the event of a possible collision: it trusts SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to be the ones to take evasive action. The company will also use the information provided by NASA to program Starlink’s automated avoidance actions so that satellites do not have to take avoidance actions in the first place. In addition, SpaceX will need to ensure that its Starlink launches have a minimum distance of 5 kilometers above or below the highest and lowest points in the orbit of the International Space Station.
NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement:
“Society depends on space capabilities for global communications, navigation, weather forecasting and more. As commercial companies launch more and more satellites, it is essential that we increase communications, exchange data and establish the best space environment. “