WAILEA, Hawaii — As both the number of satellites and the number of potential collisions grow, government and industry officials say they need to improve the ways satellite operators coordinate maneuvers.
The challenges of such coordination were on display earlier this month, when the European Space Agency announced it shifted the orbit of its Aeolus spacecraft to avoid a close approach to a SpaceX Starlink satellite. ESA made the decision after SpaceX didn’t respond to updated assessments that showed a higher probability of a collision, which the company blamed on a glitch in a paging system.
The event showed how much effort, and potential for miscues, goes into coordinating such maneuvers, something that experts say won’t scale as companies deploy megaconstellations of satellites in the coming years.
“It made us ask whether emails or late-night calls are the most efficient coordination mechanism, and would be advisable in a scenario with thousands more operational satellites,” said Francesca Letizia, an engineer in ESA’s Space Debris Office, during a Sept. 19 presentation at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies, or AMOS, conference here.
She called for more data sharing about satellite positions among operators. Another step would be greater use of ...