Space capable nations urged to inform others before orbital maneuvers
By Zhang Haixiang
Any country performing an orbital maneuver of its spacecraft should inform the related countries to make sure that it is safe enough, an expert said on Tuesday, commenting on the endangerment of China's space station by SpaceX satellites earlier this year.
"This is a responsibility for any space capable nation," said Yang Yuguang, vice chair of Space Transportation Committee, International Astronautical Federation.
In a document submitted to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, China said that the satellites from Starlink Internet Services, a division of Tesla founder Elon Musk's SpaceX aerospace company, had two "close encounters" with China's space station on July 1 and October 21. The country then was forced to take evasive actions to avoid collision with the satellites.
The Starlink satellites had always orbited an altitude of around 550 kilometers, while the International Space Station and China's space station operated at an altitude of about 400 kilometers, according to Yang.
"If all of them are in their working habits, there's no possibility of collision... For whatever reason, before the orbital maneuver, they should inform other countries. They should not do this in an irresponsible manner," he said.
To avoid collision in outer space, the space capable nations use their ground stations with optical telescopes and radars to monitor the space debris and other spacecraft in outer space and calculate the possibility based on this observation, Yang explained. If the possibility is high enough, they order their spacecraft to conduct orbital maneuver to reduce the possibility of collision, he added.
Yang called on the space capable nations to issue regulations in coordination with others to avoid collision in the future, adding that if such an incident did occur the compensation would have to be made by the owner of the object or the country who launched the object.
Musk's SpaceX alone so far has deployed nearly 1,900 satellites to serve its Starlink broadband network and plans to launch more.
With nearly 3,000 satellites and other debris believed to be orbiting the planet, scientists have repeatedly urged governments to share data to reduce the risk of space collisions.