ESA Director General, Jan Woerner spoke about the growing issues around Space debris at the Space Tech Expo in Bremen, Germany a few weeks ago. He put the case forward that too little was being done by satellite operators and insisted “We don’t have the wait all the time for regulations”. He specifically cited about the potential damage that mega constellations could cause, and mentioned that SpaceX Starlink intends to launch up over 40,000 satellites in crowded LEO Space. He said, even with a functional success rate as high as 97% for megaconstellations, this could result in thousands of dysfunctional satellites.
According to Space News, SpaceX has now automated what used to be a very manual process in collision avoidance manoeuvres with Starlink, and since carried out 21 of them. This has relied heavily on the data available through the US Air Force which is limited by its radar coverage, object size detection and timeliness of measurements.
It is paramount that more needs to be done within the industry to ensure safe operation of all satellites in LEO and support the overall Space infrastructure before it becomes too late. It was this reasoning that led us to invest in LeoLabs, a company that identifies, tracks and monitors Space debris, using a network of next generation ground-based phased-array antennas. Earlier this year, LeoLabs unveiled its new radar in New Zealand that is capable of identifying objects as small as 2cm in diameter and is helping them build out their global coverage. This will enable LeoLabs to generate and curate the largest catalogue of LEO Space debris, at the highest resolution. Through a software-led analytics platform, LeoLabs will provide collision alerts to satellite operators such that they can perform avoidance manoeuvres with much greater certainty than can be achieved today. This will help to mitigate the risk of collisions, making LEO a more sustainable environment for all operators, be they commercial or Government.
“We need to act immediately and when I say ‘we’ I mean each and every one without looking to the others and saying, ‘Before there is regulation, I will not do anything,’” - Jan Woerner