Chinese space station forced to maneuver to avoid Starlink satellites

The Chinese space station would have been forced to correct its trajectory twice in order to avoid a risk of collision with a satellite of the Starlink constellation of SpaceX. A situation which shows the urgency of providing space with a “highway code” to manage space traffic, as the European Commission wishes with the Spaceways project.

You will also be interested

[EN VIDÉO] How many satellites revolve around the Earth?
2,787 satellites were operational as of December 31, 2020 according to the UCS (Union of Concerned Scientists) association, more than half of which were launched by the United States. Three quarters of the satellites in operation revolve in low orbit (between 500 and 2,000 km altitude), and are used for telecommunications systems, terrestrial imagery or meteorology.

In a document recently released by the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs in Vienna, China told the UN Secretary-General that on two occasions, satellites of the constellation Starlink from SpaceX have ” consisting of dangers to the life or health of astronauts aboard the Chinese space station “. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian added another layer on Tuesday, noting that ” United States is ignoring its obligations under international treaties posing a serious threat to the lives and safety of astronauts ».

In other words, China accuses SpaceX of irresponsible and dangerous conduct in space and the United States of laxity in the management of its space activities. Charges that can make you smile when you know that the Chinese military is responsible for thousands of debris following an anti-satellite missile test carried out in January 2007. Located at some 800 kilometers above sea level, a satellite weather report out of service Chinese had been destroyed by a missile generating a profusion of debris which, for once, are much more dangerous than satellites Starlink because much less predictable and maneuverable.

That said, it should not be denied that the hundreds of Starlink satellites already in orbit have increased the number of collision risks since the deployment of the constellation. The Chinese space station, currently occupied by a crew of three taikonauts, which sits in a near-circular orbit at an altitude of about 390 kilometers with an orbit tilt of about 41.5 degrees, is no more exposed than other space users. In September 2019, theEuropean Space Agency had been forced to maneuver the Aeolus satellite to avoid a Starlink satellite. But as China knows how to make itself heard and respected, the controversy quickly swelled over the social networks Chinese.

It is therefore not surprising that, as China points out, two of them found themselves in July and October on a trajectory that could, in theory, cause them to collide with the Chinese space station. In theory, because we identify a risk of collision when a satellite can approach within a few kilometers of an object that it could strike. Strictly speaking, neither of the two Starlink satellites implicated by China was heading straight for the Chinese space station. However, this situation underlines the need to quickly set up a space traffic management system to regulate human activities in space. This is what the European Commission is proposing with the Spaceways project piloted by Telespazio.

Two collision risk avoidance maneuvers


Discover, below, the information relating to the two collision avoidance maneuvers carried out by the Chinese space station as presented by China to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.

As of April 19, 2020, the Starlink-1095 satellite has been moving stably in orbit at an average altitude of about 555 kilometers. Between May 16 and June 24, 2021, the Starlink-1095 satellite maneuvered continuously to an orbit of approximately 382 kilometers and then remained in that orbit. A rapprochement took place between the Starlink-1095 satellite and the Chinese space station on 1is July 2021. For safety reasons, the Chinese space station took the initiative to perform an evasive maneuver on the evening of that day in order to prevent a potential collision between the two spacecraft.

The second collision avoidance was potentially more dangerous. On October 21, 2021, the Starlink-2305 satellite approached the Chinese space station. The satellite being in continuous maneuver, the maneuvering strategy being unknown and the errors orbitals being difficult to assess, there was therefore a risk of collision between the Starlink-2305 satellite and the Chinese space station. In order to ensure the safety and lives of the astronauts in orbit, the Chinese space station carried out a new evasive maneuver on the same day to prevent a potential collision between the two spacecraft.

Interested in what you just read?

Leave a Comment