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When one thinks of Elon Musk’s SpaceX venture, one thinks of Moon tourists, colonies on Mars and, of course, exploding rockets. But it’s what Musk plans on doing between those rubble-covered launch pads and the Moon and Mars that has some people worried.

Starlink operates more than 1,300 spacecraft in Earth’s lower orbit and is adding some 120 more every month. Its fleet is now on track to top the total number of satellites that have been launched since the 1950s—around 9,000.

Orbital space is finite, and the current lack of universal regulation means companies can place satellites on a first-come, first-served basis. And Mr. Musk is on track to stake a claim for most of the free orbital real estate, largely because, unlike competitors, he owns his own rockets.

That’s bad enough to Starlink’s competitors, of course. But they’re even more worried about Starlink’s typically Muskian approach to things.

Starlink will operate so many satellites that even a low failure rate would mean a relatively high threat to orbital safety because of the potential for collisions…. In the region of space where Starlink operates, satellites orbit the earth at 18,000 miles an hour. Any collision could spread high-velocity debris that could make the orbit unusable for years.

Competitors say Starlink satellites have low maneuverability, meaning that other firms’ craft have to act when collisions threaten…. Mr. Musk’s satellites are equipped with an AI-powered, automated collision avoidance system. Yet that system had to be switched off when a Starlink satellite came within 190 feet of the rival’s satellite this month….

Speaking of typically Muskian approaches, here’s the man himself on the danger posed by his flying trashcans.

On Twitter, Mr. Musk commented on Mr. Dankberg’s earlier warnings that his company posed a hazard to orbital traffic by tweeting: “Starlink ‘poses a hazard’ to Viasat’s profits, more like it.”

Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet Project Is Too Risky, Rivals Say [WSJ]


By Heisenberg Media (Flickr: Elon Musk - The Summit 2013) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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