A close encounter between SpaceX and OneWeb satellites in orbit that could have ended in disaster was reported earlier this month, but the Elon Musk-owned company states the publicized event never took place.
In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, SpaceX accuses its rival of sounding the alarm when there was no potential danger.
‘Despite recent reports to the contrary, the parties made clear that there was no ‘close call’ or ‘near miss,’ writes David Goldman, SpaceX director of satellite policy, suggesting both SpaceX and OneWeb came to the same conclusion.
When asked about SpaceX claiming it was never an issue, Chris McLaughlin, OneWeb Chief of Government, told Daily Mail: ‘They would say that wouldn’t they,’ adding ‘they are now trying to cover their tracks, saying it is a pre-arranged maneuver.’
He continued to explain that when OneWeb contacted SpaceX’s team they said it would ‘make a manual maneuver to ensure our satellite doesn’t interfere with your satellite,’ but then suggested it would be best not to do anything and let OneWeb fly its satellite.
In a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, SpaceX accuses its rival of sounding the alarm when there was no potential danger
On April 9, The Verge reported that two satellites from each firm came within 190 feet of each other in orbit April 4, which sparked several ‘red alerts’ from the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron.
The close call, according to The Verge, was due to OneWeb’s recent launch on March 30th, which sent 36 satellites into orbit and had to pass through a sea of Starlinks to hit its targeted orbit.
SpaceX designs each Starlink device with an AI-powered collision avoidance system that McLaughlin said OneWeb asked the firm to turn off so they could ‘arrange a safe fly by.’
‘We applauded them for their coordination but pointed out we both have different protocols and waiting 12 hours to see what their automated system would do is not acceptable to OneWeb,’ he continued.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX designs each Starlink device with an AI-powered collision avoidance system that Chris McLaughlin (right) said OneWeb asked the firm to turn off so they could ‘arrange a safe fly by’
On April 9, The Verge reported that two satellites from each firm came within 190 feet of each other in orbit April 4, which sparked several ‘red alerts’ from the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron
‘About 25 hours before the possible coalescence, the US air force space command flagged a red flag that must be acted upon, indicating a coalescent of 193 feet between our satellite and a Starlink satellite.’
‘Our engineers immediately tried to contact SpaceX via email to say ‘what do you want to do about this’ and were told ‘don’t bother us and in 12 hours we will look at this, as that is our policy.’
‘We can’t do that as OneWeb, as we are required to take action up to 72 hours before, certainly up to 24 hours and so we asked ‘can we have a phone call?’
According to McLaughlin, OneWeb kicked it into gear when SpaceX said ‘it might be better if we do nothing and you fly your satellite.’
‘We programmed in the move, executed overnight through Saturday morning and as we were programming in the process we noticed the SpaceX automated collision system has never been demonstrated and nor have they ever disclosed to other operators how it works,’ he said.
McLaughlin continued to explain that when OneWeb (pictured) contacted SpaceX’s team they said it would ‘make a manual maneuver to ensure our satellite doesn’t interfere with your satellite,’ but then suggested it would be best not to do anything and let OneWeb fly its satellite
‘We had a situation where it was like two people walking in the street – one goes one way, another goes the same way and they laugh. Well in space that could have led to a collision, with both satellites trying to dodge in the same direction.’
Goldman’s timeline in the filling states SpaceX initially volunteered to manually maneuver the Starlink satellites, but both companies decided to wait.
‘The probability of collision never exceeded the threshold for a maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been conducted,’ he added.
The filing goes on to say officials from both SpaceX, OneWeb, and the FCC held a call on Tuesday to discuss the situation. Goldman then claims OneWeb offered in the meeting ‘to retract its previous incorrect statements’ on the incident.
According to the report from The Verge, Space Force had said the probability of the two satellites colliding was 1.3 percent and if they would have hit, it would have added hundreds more pieces of space junk into the orbit.
Millions of pieces of debris are littering space and can travel as fast as a speeding bullet, which can destroy satellites, telescopes, spacecraft – and one NASA scientist fears they could eventually create the Kessler syndrome.
This theoretical scenario was proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, which says the density of objects in low-Earth orbit could increase to a point where collisions occur that generates more space debris to the point that it is dangerous for humans to venture off the planet.
OneWeb has 146 satellites in orbit, while SpaceX has 1,378 Starlinks – and the Elon Musk-owned firm has come under fire for flooding the heavens.
The communications company Viasat petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites in December, claiming the constellation poses environmental hazards
The document cites a number of grievances including SpaceX’s satellites failure rate to devices colliding in orbit and re-entry pollution risks.
However, Musk caught wind of the petition and did what most billionaires do – he took to Twitter.
Musk shared a tweet on his page saying: ‘Starlink ‘poses a hazard’ to Viasat’s profits, more like it.’
John Janka, Viasat’s chief officer for global government affairs and regulatory, told DailyMail.com: ‘There has been strong concerns raised among a wide number of players in the industry this summer about the satellite’s orbital debris, space safety and interference issues.’
‘It is not just SpaceX, these concerns are about mega constellations in general – anyone proposing to send thousands and tens of thousands of satellites into orbit.’