Starlink Satellites Leading Edge On-Orbit Debris Mitigation

The Starlink satellite broadband internet service from SpaceX is going to retire some of its early prototype satellites, but not in the usual way, which is to just leave them to form constellations of space junk.

SpaceX will perform propulsion-assisted orbital decay to bring them down into the Earth's atmosphere in a semi-controlled way.

To date, SpaceX has launched a total of 775 Starlink satellites, including early prototypes. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, who has been following the constellation's location closely, 47 Starlink satellites have been deorbited and reentered Earth's atmosphere. McDowell published a document on his website that states --"SpaceX is retiring the V0.9 constellation of 60 prototype satellites launched in May 2019. As of October 7, 39 of the 60 satellites have reentered," he wrote, "This is a new kind of reentry: it's not a normal impulsive deorbit and not a normal orbital decay, but something in-between. The Starlink satellites are, apparently, retired by continuously lowering their orbit with electric propulsion. Reentry occurs in a way similar to uncontrolled reentry - eventually the satellite is low enough and the ambient density is high enough that the vehicle heats, breaks up and is destroyed."

"The crucial point here is that the location of the breakup on the Earth is unpredictable and uncontrolled, in contrast to an impulsive deorbit where the rapid elliptical-orbit descent from a relatively high apogee means that reentry location is determined relatively precisely by the orbital parameters," McDowell explains. "These Starlink retirements should perhaps be termed `propulsion-assisted orbital decay'- they are more like normal uncontrolled orbital decay but speeded up by the thrusters," he wrote in his Space Report No.784 that he shared via Twitter.

SpaceX designed Starlink satellites to have a shorter duration life-span to ensure they do not cause space junk around Earth. "Starlink is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation, meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards," the company states, "At end of life, the satellites will utilize their on-board propulsion system to deorbit over the course of a few months. In the unlikely event the propulsion system becomes inoperable, the satellites will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere within 1-5 years, significantly less than the hundreds or thousands of years required at higher altitudes." By intentionally deorbiting Starlink satellites, each burn up in Earth's harsh atmosphere which helps keep space clean of objects that will not be utilized.

In his 1978 novel The Fountains of Paradise, Arthur C. Clarke uses a somewhat more emphatic method - called Operation Cleanup to make sure that low earth orbit is clear of debris for the newly constructed space elevator which is the main subject of the novel:

Fortunately, the old orbital forts were superbly equipped for this task. Their radars - designed to locate oncoming missles at extreme ranges with no advance warning - could easily pinpoint the debris of the early Space Age. Then their lasers vaporized the smaller satellites, while the larger ones were nudged into higher and harmless orbits.

There have been a lot of suggestions about how to deal with the problem of space debris - take your pick!

  - Terminator Tether - EDT Solution To Space Debris Update
  - NanoTerminator Prevents Annoying Space Debris Build-Up
  - Debris Cloud From Chinese ASAT A Menace To Space Lanes
  - Space Debris Cleanup Suggestions Ignored
  - Laser Thruster 'Tractor Beams' For Space Junk
  - Space Junk-Eating Pod-Craft
  - CleanSpace One Goal: De-Orbit Space Debris
  - Space Debris Cleanup - Use Harpoons Or Gas Clouds?
  - Could Ground-Based Lasers De-Orbit Space Junk?
  - Australians To Zap Space Junk Ala Arthur C. Clarke
  - Tracking Spinning Space Junk
  - Zap Space Debris With Telescope Laser On ISS
  - New Laser Space Debris Clearing More Subtle Than Clarke's
  - Nifty New SDS Space Debris Sensor For ISS
  - Elon Musk Tweets Versions Of Clarke's Operation Cleanup

Via Tesmanian.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/7/2020)

Follow this kind of news @Technovelgy.

| Email | RSS | Blog It | Stumble | del.icio.us | Digg | Reddit |

Would you like to contribute a story tip? It's easy:
Get the URL of the story, and the related sf author, and add it here.

Comment/Join discussion ( 0 )

Related News Stories - (" Space Tech ")

Comercial Airlock 'Bishop' Now On ISS
'They put the bones and the glass can that had contained the soup into the double-doored partition or vestibule...' - John Jacob Astor IV, 1894.

Space Station Could Use Some Martian Sawgrass
'What better purifying machine is there than a plot of grass?' - George O. Smith, 1942.

Arches Of Chaos: Jovian Space Manifolds Create A Celestial Autobahn
'Commute ships roared on all sides, as Ed Morris made his way wearliy home to Earth at the end of a long hard day at the office.' Philip K. Dick,

ESA Space Claw To Grab Space Junk
Now, where have I seen this idea before?

 

Google
  Web TechNovelgy.com   

Technovelgy (that's tech-novel-gee!) is devoted to the creative science inventions and ideas of sf authors. Look for the Invention Category that interests you, the Glossary, the Invention Timeline, or see what's New.

 

 

 

 

 

Current News

Las Vegas Tunnels To Have Autonomous Teslas
'...just a steady velvety whirr as the taxi sped along.'

TCL CSOT 17-Inch Printed OLED Scrolling Display
'..a wide sheet of clear material suddenly flared with light and swirling colour.'

Reachy Humanoid VR Teleoperation App
"I went to the control room where the three other men were manipulating their mechanical men...'

Unitree A1 Robot ala Black Mirror and Snow Crash
'The legs are long, curled way up to deliver power...'

DALL-E Makes Creative Images From Text
Okay, sf fans. If you could have some art created from a science fiction sentence, what sentence would you pick?

BladeBUG Robots Clean Massive Wind Turbine Blades
'There were the cleaners, with large padded feet, who were apparently polishing their way the whole length...'

Looms To Manually Weave Lunar Rover Wheels
It's fascinating to me how the Apollo program forced people to think outside their usual boxes.

IceBot Antarctic (Planetary?) Robotic Explorers Made Of Ice
'Some will combine in place to form more complicated structures, like excavators or centipedes.'

Glad 2020 Is Over
Maybe you missed one of these?

PEDOT Polymer Could Enhance Brain-Machine Interfaces
'the hair-fine wire going deep into Owen's brain, down into the pleasure center.'

Study: Robots Encourage Humans To Take Risks
Not exactly Three Laws compliant.

Kinetic Buildings And Psychotropic Houses
'There was a dim whirring, and the spheres tipped and began to rotate...'

Jupe Urban Escape Pods Have Tesla, SpaceX Roots
'The houses are prefabricated units... and they sell at the flat rate of five hundred dollars a room — set up.'

Best Robot Dance Video Of 2020
'I can Mashed Potato... I can do the Twist.'

Vertical Farm In Singapore's Output Is 1.5 Tons Per Day
'A towering eighty-story structure like the office "In-and-Out" baskets stacked up to the sky.'

3D Printed 'Blisk' Manufactured In Orbit
'It can be mass-produced only in the orbiting factories...'

More SF in the News Stories

More Beyond Technovelgy science news stories

Home | Glossary | Invention Timeline | Category | New | Contact Us | FAQ | Advertise |
Technovelgy.com - where science meets fiction™

Copyright© Technovelgy LLC; all rights reserved.