Elon Musk denies claims his satellites are killing rivals in space

Elon Musk has hit back at criticism that his company’s Starlink satellite is taking up too much room in space, and instead argued that there could be room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft in the fund. orbit near Earth.

“Space is huge and satellites are tiny,” Musk said. “These are not some situations where we are effectively blocking others in any way. We don’t block anyone from doing anything, and we don’t expect it either. ”

His comments, made in an interview with the Financial Times, were in response to a statement from Josef Aschbacher, the head of the European Space Agency, that Musk had “Make the rules” for the new commercial space economy. Speaking to the FT earlier this month, Aschbacher warned that Musk’s rush to launch thousands of communications satellites would leave others with fewer radio frequencies and orbital slots.

SpaceX, Musk’s private space company, has launched nearly 2,000 satellites for its Starlink broadband communications network and has plans for tens of thousands more.

Rejecting suggestions that he is “eliminating” future satellite competitors, Musk compared the number of satellites in low Earth orbit to what he said were 2 billion cars and trucks. on the earth. Each “crust” orbiting Earth is larger than the planet’s surface, he said, adding one more crust every 10 meters into space.

“That means there’s room for tens of billions of satellites,” he said. “A few thousand satellites is nothing. It’s like, hey, here’s a few thousand cars on Earth – nothing. “

Some experts challenge Musk’s claim that satellites in low Earth orbit can safely match the density of cars and trucks on Earth.

Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said spacecraft traveling at 17,000mph needs much greater distances than cars to have time to adjust to their orbits. them if there is a possibility of a collision. He calculated that at that rate, the three-second gap would only house about 1,000 satellites in each orbital shell.

McDowell said potential collisions can only be identified close to when they might occur due to the difficulty of calculating the orbits of the various satellites and because changes in solar weather affect orbits. theirs, McDowell said.

“For many space users, travel planning avoids at least a few hours if not days, so this indicates the space is already overcrowded,” he said.

China complain This month, two Starlink satellites forced the Chinese space station to implement “collision prevention control” measures in October and July to “ensure the safety and lives of astronauts on board.” religion”.

Laura Forczyk, a space analyst at space consulting group Astralytical, said comparing the satellites to Musk’s Earth-based vehicles was “misleading”, but added: “Basically, you That’s right, it’s a matter of traffic management.”

The race to launch new communication networks with thousands of satellites has shown a clear need for more coordination between countries to decide “how orbital space is distributed and how to manage traffic in space,” she said.

Forczyk said Aschbacher’s criticism of Starlink was “based on feelings, not facts”.

“I have to wonder if similar complaints will be made as some airlines start flying more planes on designated routes. Nobody owns the sky and it’s all free to use,” she said.

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