Do Starlink Satellites Increase Space Junk?

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Curated by informed

News of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellations burning in low-earth orbit (LEO) has reignited the debate around space debris.

  • A geomagnetic storm in the Earth’s atmosphere has led to the burning of 40 internet-beaming Starlink satellites from a batch of 49, which were launched only last week.
  • SpaceX has launched around 1,900 Starlink satellites in low-earth orbit (that’s under 2000 km) for145,000 users around the world. It has permission for to put up 12,000 satellites in all.
  • As SpaceX does not disclose the exact cost of its Starlink satellites or Falcon 9 rocket, speculations hint at a loss of upwards of $50 million.
  • SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation is just one player among others to offer internet connectivity to remote corners of the Earth. In principle, it’s a great thing, but it also comes at a cost.
  • Astronomers looking at the skies have expressed annoyance at bright satellite constellations ruining their observations. They are afraid that this will just increase over the years.
  • As of January 2022, there are over 37,000 pieces of trash (objects larger than 10 cm) in low-earth orbit that are being tracked. Estimates hint at over 330 million pieces under 1 cm.
  • The space debris in and of itself isn’t dangerous. But it increases risks of damage to functioning satellites offering services like the internet, weather forecasting, GPS and other communications.
  • With more constellation satellites being installed, it increases the chances of ‘close encounters’ in which the spacecrafts pass within a distance of 1 km. Starlink leads that statistic.
  • We look at howlack of a uniform policy pertaining to space junk is a recipe for avoidable disasters in the future, and where spot on Earth is a cemetery for spacecrafts.
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