Elon Musk says Starlink satellites have had to dodge debris from Russia's anti-satellite missile test




  • In Science
  • 2021-11-30 19:57:08Z
  • By Business Insider
Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX.Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images
Elon Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX.Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images  
  • Elon Musk says some of SpaceX's Starlink satellites had to dodge debris from a Russian missile test.

  • Russia blew up a satellite on November 15, making new clouds of high-speed debris in Earth's orbit.

  • Any collision could disable or explode a SpaceX satellite. Not all the Russian debris is being tracked.

Elon Musk said on Tuesday that SpaceX's Starlink satellites have had to dodge debris from a Russian missile test.

Russia blasted one of its satellites with a missile on November 15, causing an explosion of debris that spread throughout Earth's orbit, traveling about 10 times the speed of a bullet. Astronauts on the International Space Station took shelter in their spaceships, ready to evacuate the station in case of disaster.

The new clouds of debris pose a threat to almost everything in Earth's orbit - including Starlink, the network of about 1,700 SpaceX internet satellites.

"We had to shift some Starlink satellite orbits to reduce probability of collision," Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, wrote on Twitter. "Not great, but not terrible either."

Smaller debris could easily incapacitate a satellite. In that case, the satellite would slowly lose altitude until it fell through Earth's atmosphere, burning up from the friction. A collision with a larger chunk of the Russian shrapnel could make the new debris problem even worse.

"If [a satellite] gets hit by one of the bigger pieces of debris... it could completely destroy the satellite into thousands of more pieces," astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who tracks satellites and debris objects, told Insider after the missile test. "You could see debris hitting the satellites, causing more debris that then hits more satellites."

The US State Department estimates that the Russian missile test created more than 1,500 pieces of debris large enough to track from the ground. But nobody has successfully identified or tracked all the large objects yet. That could take months.

"If it's not in the catalog, SpaceX doesn't know it's there. And so they can't dodge," McDowell said.

Debris dodging will probably be a more regular necessity as SpaceX grows its satellite constellation. The Federal Communications Commission has licensed SpaceX to put 12,000 of its Starlink satellites into orbit, and the company has requested approval for another 30,000.

Marianne Guenot contributed reporting.

COMMENTS

More Related News

Elon Musk X: What life is like on a super-app in Asia
Elon Musk X: What life is like on a super-app in Asia

In Asia, super-apps are already a vital part of everyday life, with everything available at a click of a button.

Pound holds steady after Fitch drops UK credit outlook to
Pound holds steady after Fitch drops UK credit outlook to 'negative' - live updates

Income taxes to rise by £21bn despite Budget cuts FTSE 100 closed at 7,052.62 on Wednesday, FTSE 250 at 17,562.42 Dow Jones closed at 30,273.87, S&P 500 at...

Musk Deposition Delayed in Twitter Suit as Buyout Moves Ahead
Musk Deposition Delayed in Twitter Suit as Buyout Moves Ahead

(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk and Twitter Inc. agreed to postpone the billionaire's long-awaited deposition in the company's lawsuit aimed at forcing him to go...

Three reasons Washington is freaking out about Elon Musk right now
Three reasons Washington is freaking out about Elon Musk right now

A takeover of Twitter by Elon Musk could create headaches for Democrats and Republicans alike, with a potential return of Donald Trump and explosion of...

Twitter under Musk? Most of the plans are a mystery
Twitter under Musk? Most of the plans are a mystery

Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX and Twitter's most high-profile user since former President Donald Trump was booted from it, has shared few concrete...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Comments

Top News: Science