Monday, May 10, 2021
Home Tech SpaceX denies claim that Starlink and OneWeb satellites almost collided

SpaceX denies claim that Starlink and OneWeb satellites almost collided

A stack of 60 Starlink satellites being launched into space, with Earth in the background.
Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019.

SpaceX has accused satellite-broadband rival OneWeb of spreading a false story claiming that the businesses’ satellites practically crashed into one another.

In actuality, “[t]he probability of collision never exceeded the threshold for a [collision-avoidance] maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been conducted,” SpaceX informed the Federal Communications Commission in an ex parte submitting. The submitting describes a gathering that SpaceX and OneWeb representatives had with FCC workers yesterday during which SpaceX mentioned it “corrected the record regarding recent press reports regarding physical coordination between SpaceX and OneWeb.”

The assembly got here sooner or later after The Wall Street Journal printed an article titled, “Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say.” The Journal article described OneWeb’s allegations as follows:

Starlink satellites have come alarmingly near different spacecraft twice within the final two years, together with on April 2, when a Starlink satellite tv for pc prompted one other operated by OneWeb, managed by Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the UK authorities, to make evasive maneuvers, in keeping with OneWeb and the US Space Command.

Mr. Musk’s satellites are outfitted with an AI-powered, automated collision avoidance system. Yet that system needed to be switched off when a Starlink satellite tv for pc got here inside 190 ft of the rival’s satellite tv for pc this month, in keeping with OneWeb’s [government affairs chief, Chris] McLaughlin.

When contacted by OneWeb, Starlink’s engineers mentioned they could not do something to keep away from a collision and switched off the collision avoidance system so OneWeb may maneuver across the Starlink satellite tv for pc with out interference, in keeping with Mr. McLaughlin.

The Journal mentioned that “SpaceX didn’t reply to requests for comment” in regards to the OneWeb incident and one other occasion from 2019 during which the European Space Agency mentioned it carried out a collision-avoidance maneuver to keep away from a SpaceX satellite tv for pc.

The Journal additionally quoted McLaughlin as saying, “SpaceX has a gung-ho approach to space… Every one of our satellites is like a Ford Focus—it does the same thing, it gets tested, it works—while Starlink satellites are like Teslas: They launch them and then they have to upgrade and fix them, or even replace them altogether.”

In yesterday’s submitting to the FCC, SpaceX mentioned that “OneWeb’s head lobbyist recently made demonstrably inaccurate statements to the media about recent coordinations of physical operations. Specifically, Mr. McLaughlin of OneWeb told the Wall Street Journal that SpaceX switched off its AI-powered, autonomous collision avoidance system and ‘they couldn’t do anything to avoid a collision.’ Rather, SpaceX and OneWeb were working together in good faith at the technical level. As part of these discussions, OneWeb itself requested that SpaceX turn off the system temporarily to allow their maneuver, as agreed by the parties.”

SpaceX’s “autonomous collision avoidance system was and remains fully functional at all times,” SpaceX additionally wrote.

OneWeb admitted it was incorrect, SpaceX says

OneWeb supplied to retracted its false statements through the assembly with SpaceX and the FCC, in keeping with SpaceX’s recounting of yesterday’s assembly with seven staffers from the fee’s International Bureau, together with International Bureau Chief Tom Sullivan and Satellite Division Acting Chief Karl Kensinger.

“Despite recent reports to the contrary, the parties made clear that there was no ‘close call’ or ‘near miss.’ SpaceX and OneWeb agreed that they had conducted a successful coordination, resulting in a positive outcome,” SpaceX wrote. The SpaceX submitting continued:

SpaceX expressed its disappointment to the Commission that OneWeb’s officers selected to publicly misstate the circumstances of the coordination. Ongoing profitable coordination is determined by belief and transparency between the operators and the sorts of techniques used on this case by OneWeb lead to a much less secure house atmosphere as they detract from the technical work wanted to handle a satellite tv for pc constellation safely. SpaceX was due to this fact grateful that OneWeb supplied within the assembly with the Commission to retract its earlier incorrect statements. SpaceX seems ahead to listening to affirmation from OneWeb when these retractions have been made.

OneWeb’s deceptive public statements coincide with OneWeb’s intensified efforts to stop SpaceX from finishing a security improve to its system. For occasion, instantly after the primary inaccurate quotes got here out in media accounts, OneWeb met with Commission workers and Commissioners demanding unilateral situations positioned on SpaceX’s operations [See OneWeb filing]. Ironically, the situations demanded by OneWeb would make it harder to efficiently coordinate tough operations going ahead, demonstrating extra of a priority with limiting rivals than with a real concern for house security.

We contacted OneWeb about SpaceX’s submitting immediately and will replace this text if we get a response. There was no OneWeb response to SpaceX’s submitting within the FCC docket as of immediately.

Minuscule probability of collision

SpaceX’s submitting has an attachment with a reality sheet and timeline describing the incident with OneWeb. It mentioned that the “recent technical coordination with OneWeb was not an exceptional event and the Starlink team has successfully conducted similar coordinations with other satellite owner/operators.” The “probability of conjunction” was initially estimated at between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 100,000, SpaceX wrote.

OneWeb contacted SpaceX by way of e-mail on April 1. “SpaceX responded within minutes and communicated to OneWeb that Starlink-1546 was/is maneuverable,” SpaceX informed the FCC. During a cellphone name the following day, “SpaceX volunteered to perform a manual maneuver, but both parties agreed to wait for the next CDM [conjunction data message],” SpaceX wrote.

SpaceX and OneWeb had a second name lower than two hours later, during which “SpaceX reiterated its recommendation to wait for another CDM… before planning a maneuver because SpaceX systems indicated this was the least risky approach.” However, “OneWeb satellites need more time to coordinate and plan their maneuvers than Starlink satellites require, so OneWeb did not want to wait and chose instead to maneuver OneWeb-0178,” SpaceX wrote. “Because OneWeb decided to plan a maneuver, it asked SpaceX to turn off Starlink-1546’s autonomous conjunction avoidance system. SpaceX obliged this request and confirmed to OneWeb that the system had been turned off.”

Further knowledge confirmed that “the probability of collision was already below any threshold that required a maneuver and kept dropping,” SpaceX wrote. OneWeb carried out the maneuver on April 3, and the satellites ended up lacking one another by greater than 1,000 meters, SpaceX wrote. The ultimate chance of collision was “one in one hundred million million million—this was not a close call or a near miss,” SpaceX informed the FCC.

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