SpaceX calls on FCC to lower standard for satellite orbit life

In an update post on the company’s website, SpaceX called on the FCC and other international parties to change its standard on how long a satellite should stay in Low Earth Orbit.

With the rise in mega satellite constellations, industry members and space environmentalists have warned that increased space debris could set humanity’s space travel back or ground it all together. SpaceX is the pack leader, having launched over 2,000 Starlink satellites, the largest under any operator. That’s why many look to SpaceX as an example of how a mega-constellation operator should act.

Whether or not the company is doing a good job is debatable, but the company has done a lot of work to make sure its satellites never become space junk. One of the tools SpaceX is making use of is low altitudes. Most of Starlink’s satellites operate in an orbit around 340 miles. This requires more satellites to cover Earth but means orbital decay can take over quickly if something goes wrong.

Graphic showing decay rate of satellites based on orbit height. Credit: SpaceX

This is where SpaceX calls the FCC to change its standards on orbital decay limits. The FCC orders that satellites in LEO must be capable of naturally deorbiting themselves within 25 years. SpaceX believes this is outdated and should be reduced.

Compared to its competitors like OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, SpaceX operates at the lowest altitudes and has been the most open about how its satellites’ “end of life” process works. That being said, Starlink’s orbital height is far from the perfect solution, and it still obstructs ground observations of the night sky and increases the complication of finding open launch windows. Even NASA has expressed concerns over the plans for Starlink Gen2 and its impact on spaceflight and scientific observation.

Space Explored’s Take

SpaceX loves to hate on government regulation, and while dealing with the FAA Elon Musk, and by extension SpaceX, has always butted heads on procedures. This time SpaceX is pushing for even stricter standards, and it’s nice to see the company use its stance as an industry leader to instill change for the better. Between Starlink and other upcoming constellations, we need updated regulatory systems both nationally and internationally to ensure safe use of LEO and guaranteed access to space for everyone.

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