Falling debris from SpaceX‘s Starlink satellites could injure or kill a person every two years and threaten to down an aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says.
A recent FAA report to the US Congress warns of a “sky is falling” scenario. The agency looked into the risks associated with the reentry disposal of satellites from large constellations, such as Elon Musk’s Starlink, and found that falling debris could kill people.
Disposal of inoperable or defunct satellites is standard and usually done by directing them to Earth’s atmosphere, where the spacecraft burn up. Hundreds of Starlink satellites have already deorbited with no impact on human life.
However, the FAA believes that with the rising number of Starlink satellites, accidents could happen. As of now, SpaceX has launched around 5,000 satellites. The company has the FAA’s permission to operate 12,000 satellites and would like to control 40,000 in total.
Because the scale of Starlink’s constellation will likely be unmatched in the coming decade, the FAA believes that “over 85 percent of the expected risk to people on the ground and aviation from reentering debris in 2035” will come from Musk’s spacecraft.
The FAA believes that, by 2035, Starlink satellites and the debris associated with putting the spacecraft in low Earth orbit (LEO) will create 28,000 hazardous fragments that will reenter our planet’s atmosphere.
“[…] the number of individuals on the ground predicted to be injured or killed by debris surviving the reentries of satellites being disposed from these constellations would be 0.6 per year, which means that one person on the planet would be expected to be injured or killed every two years,” reads the report.
We have contacted SpaceX for comment but did not receive a reply before publishing this article.
The FAA also said the same particles could damage an aircraft and potentially cause an airplane crash. The FAA report says that the probability of an aircraft downing accident due to falling Starlink satellites in 2035 would be 0.0007 per year.
According to the European Space Agency, debris reentering our planet from LEO hits the atmosphere at 17,500 miles per hour.
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