ESA has been forced to reposition an Earth-observing satellite to avoid a potential collision with a member of SpaceX’s Starlink mega constellation.
According to Forbes magazine, the ESA said one of its satellites was forced to avoid a satellite from Elon Musk’s Starlink constellation, raising concerns about the impact of Starlink on low Earth orbit operations, after SpaceX refused to move.
On Monday, September 2, ESA’s Aeolus Earth observation satellite had to use its thrusters to move itself out of a potential collision with a Starlink space internet satellite dubbed ‘Starlink 44,’ in a high-stakes game of “space chicken.”
The dramatic incident took place 320 kilometers above Earth as the orbital paths of the two vehicles intercepted each other. Aeolus returned to its operational orbit after the maneuver, the report said.
According to Holger Krag, head of the Space Debris Office at ESA, the risk of collision between the two satellites was 1 in 1,000 – ten times higher than the threshold that requires a collision avoidance maneuver. However, despite Aeolus occupying this region of space nine months before Starlink 44, SpaceX declined to move their satellite after the two were alerted to the impact risk by the U.S. military, who monitor space traffic.
‘Based on this we informed SpaceX, who replied and said that they do not plan to take action,’ says Krag, who said SpaceX informed them via email – the first contact that had been made with SpaceX, despite repeated attempts by Krag and his team to get in touch since Starlink launched. ‘It was at least clear who had to react. So we decided to react because the collision was close to 1 in 1,000, which was ten times higher than our threshold.’