SpaceX has engaged in a dispute with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over a report to Congress that raised concerns about the risk of Starlink satellite debris falling to Earth. The aerospace company alleges that the FAA relied on a flawed analysis that inaccurately characterizes the reentry disposal risks associated with its Starlink satellites.
The FAA’s report, released last week, focused on the potential dangers posed by debris from proposed large constellations of satellites in low Earth orbit. SpaceX, in response, has requested the FAA to correct its report, claiming that the analysis is deeply flawed and based on erroneous assumptions.
One of the primary issues raised by SpaceX is that the FAA’s debris estimates were derived from a 23-year-old study that examined satellites made from different materials than the Starlink satellites. SpaceX asserts that its satellites are designed to fully burn up upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, leaving no debris behind. According to SpaceX, it has already deorbited 325 of its satellites since February 2020 without any reported incidents of debris reaching the ground. (via SpaceNews)
The FAA’s report also included an analysis from Aerospace Corporation, which suggested a risk of falling debris from Starlink satellites. According to the Aerospace analysis, if debris were to survive reentry, the probability of an aircraft collision would increase significantly as satellite constellations grow larger.
SpaceX strongly criticized Aerospace’s methodology, claiming that it omitted critical factors and relied on outdated studies related to satellite constellations. SpaceX also pointed out that the analysis did not consider other satellite systems like Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb, or those being developed by China, suggesting that the FAA and Aerospace unfairly singled out Starlink.
In response to the FAA’s report, SpaceX highlighted its success rate in post-mission disposal, which exceeds 99%. The company argued that this crucial fact was overlooked in both the FAA’s report and the Aerospace analysis.
The FAA is currently reviewing SpaceX’s letter, while Aerospace Corporation is in communication with SpaceX and other stakeholders to update the data.