SpaceX already has more than 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, but that’s just a small fraction of the full star it plans to use. Although it initially asked the FCC to launch a 12,000 satellite license, as many as 42,000 could be in orbit within a few decades. Because these satellites could collide with other spacecraft in orbit – thus greatly increasing the chances of a crash – NASA and SpaceX have signed an agreement (PDF) in an effort to prevent their assets from falling into each other.
Mar TechCrunch notes, NASA is already working with other organizations to launch objects into orbit using a standard Conformance Assessment process that determines the dangers of a close and high-speed approach between objects in space. This agreement with SpaceX, however, will ensure that they actively work in the coming years to actively prevent crashes.
NASA has agreed to inform SpaceX of its missions in advance, as well as not to transfer its assets in the event of a potential crash: SpaceX trusts StarX satellites as the ones to take preventative action. The company will also use the information provided by NASA to program Starlink automated avoidance measures so that the satellites do not have to perform evasive actions in the first place. In addition, SpaceX must ensure that its Starlink missions are at a distance of at least 5 kilometers above or below the highest and lowest points of the International Space Station orbit.
NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a statement:
“The association relies on location-based capabilities for global communications, navigation, weather forecasting, and much more. With commercial companies launching more and more satellites, it is vital that we increase communications, exchange data, and establishing best practices to ensure we all maintain a safe. space environment. “