You are currently viewing Starlink and the long-term challenges of space infrastructure

In May 2019, SpaceX first launched one of its many satellites to establish its satellite internet constellation, a service called Starlink. This satellite constellation enables the provision of satellite-based internet in underserved areas of the planet and provides an alternative service in already established rural areas.

We have come a long way since the first launch of a human-made object, the Sputnik satellite, on October 4, 1957. Since then, satellite infrastructure has become essential for everyday functioning and can be described as an invisible circulation system that keeps the whole world working and interconnected. The functionality of satellites varies from military to civilian usage, although one could argue that civilian usage takes precedence today.

As of November 23, 2023, Orbiting Now registers 8,886 objects in Earth’s orbit, or 28,205 according to N2YO.com, with the U.S. having the highest number of actual space bodies at 7,081. A quick overview of types of satellites and their missions is necessary: Satellites are first categorized based on their orbits and size.
– low Earth orbit (LEO);
– medium Earth orbit (MEO);
– geostationary orbit (GEO);
– Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO);
– geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
For more detailed information, you can consult: EOS data analytics

Furthermore, satellites are classified based on their functionality. These can vary from:
– communication;
– Earth observation;
– navigation;
astronomical, and let’s not forget
– military and spy.

But space is huge and vast, right? We are talking about thousands and thousands of kilometers of empty space that cannot be over filled with a few thousand small objects that allow us to function on a day-to-day basis. This is where the challenges of space infrastructure reveal themselves.

Firstly, we have an outdated yet still functioning body of law that governs space-related activities, simply called « Space Law. » This law was created by the signing of the « Partial Test Ban Treaty » in 1963, with more treaties signed afterward. However, in the future, should any problems arise, this body of law remains insufficient to address the concrete and numerous issues inherent to space. Another problem may be the oversaturation of our immediate orbit around our planet Earth.

This is where the part about Starlink comes into play. As of today, around 30,000 satellites exist within close space. Some of you may be familiar with the theory of Kessler Syndrome. This theory was elaborated by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978. To simplify things, we are speaking about a domino effect due to pollution caused either by an accident or oversaturation of Earth’s orbit, which would put in peril not only our current infrastructure but also any other future endeavors in space. (By danger of immediate space debris collision)

Starlink operates around 5,550 satellites in our LEO and plans to expand up to 12,000 satellites, with the final goal of having around 47,000 satellites in space—nearly double the current number. This significantly increases the chances of the Kessler effect, which could pose a serious threat to our space infrastructure, regardless of who operates it.

However, SpaceX tries to minimize the danger by reducing the risk of collision to greater than 10−5 (1 in 100,000 chance of collision), as opposed to the industry standard of 10−4 (1 in 10,000 chance of collision). These concerns, however, reveal the fragility of our current space infrastructure and will inevitably resurface as future problems to be solved.

Now, let’s just hope that we will be able to enjoy our Netflix evening for as long as possible, surrounded by the miracles of science and human achievements in orbit.

Sources :

  1. SATELLITES BY COUNTRIES AND ORGANIZATIONS
  2. https://orbit.ing-now.com/
  3. How Many Satellites are in Space?
  4. Types Of Satellites: Different Orbits & Real-World Uses
  5. “SPACEX CONSTELLATION STATUS REPORT” December 1, 2021 – May 31, 2022″. 1 July 2022. Retrieved 27 November 2023
  6. DOES STARLINK POSE A SPACE DEBRIS THREAT? AN EXPERT ANSWERS

 

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