SpaceX is objecting to a Federal Aviation Administration report saying it’s to blame for a looming rise in space trash.
The FAA last month published a study on the potentially deadly danger of falling space debris, attributing a large chunk of the risk to future deorbiting SpaceX satellites that could fall to the ground.
SpaceX takes issue with allegations that its satellite reentry system is flawed and could be dangerous. On Monday, SpaceX principal engineer David Goldstein sent a letter to the FAA and Congress asking the administration to “correct the record” on the dangers Starlink satellites pose to public safety.
“To be clear, SpaceX’s satellites are designed and built to fully demise during atmospheric reentry during disposal at end of life, and they do so,” wrote Goldstein. “SpaceX has taken extraordinary measures to design, build, and operate its constellation in a safe and sustainable manner, both in relation to low Earth orbit but most importantly to people and property on the ground.”
The concerns stem from the ever increasing number of satellites being launched into space, with many of them taking a low-Earth orbit position to deliver services like internet. The FAA estimates that by 2035, 28,000 pieces of decommissioned satellites could survive reentry every year.
The FAA names SpaceX-owned Starlink’s ever-expanding constellation as a significant contributing factor to the amount of space trash falling back to Earth. The agency estimates falling debris could kill or injure one person every two years if satellites don’t fully burn up during reentry.
Debris hitting airplanes is another factor the FAA is looking out for, “assuming that a fragment that would injure or kill a person on the ground also would be capable of fatally damaging an aircraft, the probability of an aircraft downing accident in 2035 would be .0007 per year.”
“With the increasing use of space, it has become abundantly clear that simply abandoning space objects in orbit is detrimental to the current and future use of space for the United States as well as for all spacefaring nations,” said the FAA report. The study found space collision warnings rose from 210 in 2014 to 60,000 per week in 2021. Out of all those near misses (5km or less), Starlink debris was found to comprise 40%.
Starlink’s constellation consists of more than 5,000 satellites. The company claims its post-mission disposal system has over a 99% success rate, a statistic Goldstein says is missing from the FAA report. He notes 325 Starlink satellites have already been decommissioned with “zero pieces of debris found.”
The FAA was not immediately available for comment.