Two satellites from OneWeb and SpaceX avoided dangerously close to each other in orbit at the end of last week, marking the first known collision avoidance event for the two competing companies as they race to expand their new broadband networks in space.
And on March 30, five days after OneWeb launched its latest batch of 36 satellites from Russia, the company received several alerts from its 18th Space Observation Squadron. For the US space force, Which warns of a possible collision with a Starlink satellite.
Given that the OneWeb constellation operates in higher orbits around Earth, the company’s satellites must pass through SpaceX’s network of Starlink satellites, which orbit an altitude of approximately 550 km.
One alert indicated a 1.3 percent collision probability, as the two satellites approached 190 feet, dangerously close to satellites in orbit.
If satellites collide in orbit, this could cause a series of catastrophes that could generate hundreds of pieces of debris, which could destroy satellites, telescopes and spacecraft.
The alerts helped lead OneWeb engineers to send emails to the Starlink team in order to coordinate the exercises that would place the satellites at safer distances from each other.
While coordinating with OneWeb, SpaceX disabled its AI-powered automated collision avoidance system to allow OneWeb to steer its satellite away.
SpaceX has nearly 1,370 satellites in orbit and is on the way to launch thousands more, with ambitions to build a network of 12,000 satellites, while OneWeb has launched as many as 146 satellites so far, out of the roughly 650 it plans to send into orbit.
Companies want broadband internet access to most rural areas of the earth to meet the growing demand from consumers and governments alike.
The US Space Force said: This event was an example of how satellite operators took responsibility, sharing data with each other, communicating with each other, and in the absence of any global organization, this is the art of the possible.
Satellite maneuvers in space are common, but concern is growing as OneWeb, SpaceX and other companies race to send more satellites.
An ESA satellite in 2019 was forced to move away by the SpaceX satellite in order to avoid a potential collision.
SpaceX said at the time that it did not move its satellite due to a computer error that prevented proper communication with the European Space Agency.