SpaceX denies claim that Starlink and OneWeb satellites almost collided

Enlarge / A stack of 60 Starlink satellites launched in 2019.

SpaceX has accused satellite-broadband rival OneWeb of spreading a bogus tale saying that the companies’ satellites practically crashed into just about every other.

In reality, “[t]he likelihood of collision in no way exceeded the threshold for a [collision-avoidance] maneuver, and the satellites would not have collided even if no maneuver had been carried out,” SpaceX explained to the Federal Communications Commission in an ex parte submitting. The submitting describes a conference that SpaceX and OneWeb representatives had with FCC staff yesterday in which SpaceX mentioned it “corrected the report concerning the latest press experiences with regards to bodily coordination in between SpaceX and OneWeb.”

The assembly came one working day following The Wall Avenue Journal posted an post titled “Elon Musk’s Satellite Web Challenge Is Way too Dangerous, Rivals Say.” The Journal write-up described OneWeb’s allegations as follows:

Starlink satellites have appear alarmingly close to other spacecraft twice in the last two many years, together with on April 2, when a Starlink satellite prompted another operated by OneWeb, managed by Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the United kingdom federal government, to make evasive maneuvers, according to OneWeb and the US Space Command.

Mr. Musk’s satellites are outfitted with an AI-powered, automated collision avoidance system. But that system had to be switched off when a Starlink satellite arrived within just 190 ft of the rival’s satellite this thirty day period, in accordance to OneWeb’s [government affairs chief Chris] McLaughlin.

When contacted by OneWeb, Starlink’s engineers explained they couldn’t do just about anything to prevent a collision and switched off the collision avoidance program so OneWeb could maneuver all around the Starlink satellite with out interference, according to Mr. McLaughlin.

The Journal claimed that “SpaceX didn’t reply to requests for remark” about the OneWeb incident and yet another celebration from 2019 in which the European House Company stated it executed a collision-avoidance maneuver to stay clear of a SpaceX satellite.

The Journal also quoted McLaughlin as declaring, “SpaceX has a gung-ho strategy to place… Each individual one of our satellites is like a Ford Focus—it does the identical matter, it will get analyzed, it works—while Starlink satellites are like Teslas: They launch them and then they have to improve and repair them, or even substitute them altogether.”

In yesterday’s submitting to the FCC, SpaceX said that “OneWeb’s head lobbyist a short while ago designed demonstrably inaccurate statements to the media about the latest coordinations of physical operations. Specifically, Mr. McLaughlin of OneWeb instructed the Wall Avenue Journal that SpaceX switched off its AI-run, autonomous collision avoidance program and ‘they couldn’t do anything to keep away from a collision.’ Somewhat, SpaceX and OneWeb were performing alongside one another in excellent faith at the specialized level. As portion of these conversations, OneWeb alone asked for that SpaceX change off the program briefly to enable their maneuver, as agreed by the events.”

SpaceX’s “autonomous collision avoidance procedure was and remains fully purposeful at all periods,” SpaceX also wrote.

OneWeb admitted it was improper, SpaceX claims

OneWeb provided to retract its untrue statements through the conference with SpaceX and the FCC, according to SpaceX’s recounting of yesterday’s assembly with seven staffers from the commission’s Global Bureau, like Worldwide Bureau Main Tom Sullivan and Satellite Division Acting Chief Karl Kensinger.

“Even with current reviews to the opposite, the get-togethers produced obvious that there was no ‘close call’ or ‘near miss.’ SpaceX and OneWeb agreed that they had carried out a thriving coordination, ensuing in a beneficial final result,” SpaceX wrote. The SpaceX filing continued:

SpaceX expressed its disappointment to the Fee that OneWeb’s officers selected to publicly misstate the circumstances of the coordination. Ongoing productive coordination depends on believe in and transparency amongst the operators and the kinds of strategies used in this case by OneWeb consequence in a less secure room environment as they detract from the specialized perform needed to deal with a satellite constellation safely. SpaceX was hence grateful that OneWeb offered in the conference with the Commission to retract its preceding incorrect statements. SpaceX appears to be ahead to listening to confirmation from OneWeb when those people retractions have been created.

OneWeb’s deceptive public statements coincide with OneWeb’s intensified attempts to stop SpaceX from finishing a security enhance to its method. For instance, straight away following the first inaccurate offers came out in media accounts, OneWeb met with Commission team and Commissioners demanding unilateral ailments placed on SpaceX’s functions [See OneWeb filing]. Ironically, the problems demanded by OneWeb would make it a lot more tough to properly coordinate difficult functions heading forward, demonstrating a lot more of a problem with restricting competition than with a real issue for place safety.

We contacted OneWeb about SpaceX’s submitting today and will update this posting if we get a reaction. There was no OneWeb response to SpaceX’s filing in the FCC docket as of nowadays.

Minuscule probability of collision

SpaceX’s submitting integrated an attachment with a point sheet and timeline describing the incident with OneWeb. It mentioned that the “latest complex coordination with OneWeb was not an outstanding party and the Starlink crew has effectively conducted identical coordinations with other satellite proprietor/operators.” The “probability of conjunction” was initially approximated at among 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 100,000, SpaceX wrote.

OneWeb contacted SpaceX through email on April 1. “SpaceX responded within just minutes and communicated to OneWeb that Starlink-1546 was/is maneuverable,” SpaceX explained to the FCC. For the duration of a phone call the future day, “SpaceX volunteered to execute a handbook maneuver, but the two events agreed to wait around for the up coming CDM [conjunction data message],” SpaceX wrote.

SpaceX and OneWeb experienced a second get in touch with significantly less than two several hours afterwards, in which “SpaceX reiterated its advice to wait around for another CDM… in advance of scheduling a maneuver because SpaceX units indicated this was the minimum dangerous approach.” Nevertheless, “OneWeb satellites need far more time to coordinate and approach their maneuvers than Starlink satellites have to have, so OneWeb did not want to wait and selected instead to maneuver OneWeb-0178,” SpaceX wrote. “Because OneWeb determined to system a maneuver, it questioned SpaceX to flip off Starlink-1546’s autonomous conjunction avoidance method. SpaceX obliged this ask for and verified to OneWeb that the program experienced been turned off.”

Additional knowledge confirmed that “the chance of collision was currently under any threshold that needed a maneuver and retained dropping,” SpaceX wrote. OneWeb performed the maneuver on April 3, and the satellites ended up missing every other by additional than 1,000 meters, SpaceX wrote. The remaining likelihood of collision was “1 in just one hundred million million million—this was not a shut contact or a close to miss,” SpaceX instructed the FCC.

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