SpaceX and NASA Sign Agreement to Help Avoid Collisions with Starlink Satellites

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SpaceX’s satellite internet service Starlink has been launching new satellites to expand its satellite constellation throughout this and last year, and its cooperation with federal agencies has been expanding just as rapidly.

In January, SpaceX and NASA signed a Space Act Agreement which volunteers Starlink’s satellites to employ autonomous maneuvering tactics in order to avoid collisions between satellites and other agency equipment (via Michael Sheetz). Starlink now has over 1,200 satellites in orbit, with more set to launch throughout this and next year.

Regarding collisions, or “conjunctions” as the agreement describes them, the document states that, “NASA will operate on the basis that the autonomous maneuvering capability of the Starlink satellites will attempt to maneuver to avoid conjunction with NASA assets, and that NASA will maintain its planned trajectory unless otherwise informed by SpaceX.”

The agreement also details a number of contract updates between NASA and SpaceX, including the sharing of technical details between the two entities, which will help mitigate and monitor Starlink satellite brightness, courses of human flights, and continuous data and location uploads, among other things.

It isn’t currently clear whether or to what extent SpaceX’s satellites are already employing these autonomous maneuvers, though going forward they’ll be important, especially as the company prepares to double the size of its satellite constellation in the next two years.

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