Elon Musk’s satellite internet venture is fueling concerns from one of SpaceX’s most important customers—the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—about traffic congestion and potential collisions hundreds of miles above Earth.
SpaceX has been ramping up satellite deployments to power Starlink, the high-speed internet service the company has been rolling out in markets around the world. In January, SpaceX asked the Federal Communications Commission to authorize the company to use a particular setup for 30,000 additional satellites it would send up over time. Those satellites represent the bulk of the 42,000-satellite fleet that SpaceX hopes to ultimately deploy for Starlink.
NASA said in an early February letter to the FCC that the 30,000 devices, if deployed, would significantly boost the number of tracked objects in space—by a factor of more than five in certain lower orbits.
“An increase of this magnitude into these confined altitude bands inherently brings additional risk of debris generating collision events,” the space agency said in the letter. NASA also raised concerns about how the automated-maneuvering systems that Starlink satellites use may interact with other networks of satellites with similar capabilities, given the dearth of rules to govern such interactions.