The Kessler Syndrome 2020/Q1

Updates appear at the bottom. This is page 2. Page 1 is here.
Latest update 04 Mar 2020

This is a casual collection of articles and reports of interest found on the internet. New items appear at the bottom of the page as and when I find them.

This is not meant to be a balanced nor an objective report (because I think it’s utter madness!) Please research your own articles if you’re looking for balanced arguments regarding the need for huge mega-satellite constellations, then research the consequences of giving carte-blanche permission to the likes of SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb to allow them to literally fill the sky with tens of thousands of satellites which will severely interfere with visual and radio observations of the universe in both day-time and night-time, also hastening the day that the Kessler Syndrome will happen (because it will!)

SpaceX gets approval for new orbits: (extract follows)

The FCC said SpaceX can field satellites in 72 rings around the Earth at 550 kilometers — three times as many as the commission approved in April. 

The commission rebuffed cubesat-operator Kepler Communications’ request to deny or postpone a decision on the respacing, and said concerns raised by fleet operator SES about signal interference were “moot.”

SpaceX has launched 120 of a planned 12,000* small broadband satellites into low Earth orbit. The company is placing its first 1,584 satellites in a 550-kilometer orbit, with later satellites planned for higher and lower altitudes. 

In August, SpaceX told the FCC that by tripling the number of lanes for those first Starlink satellites, it could build out enough coverage to offer internet access in southern states by the 2020 hurricane season. 

*The total constellation is now planned to consist of 42,000 satellites.


2020.01.16 FCC approval of SpaceX plans may have been unlawful

A new paper suggests that the agency broke U.S. environmental law in its approval of the satellites and that if it were to be sued in court, it would likely lose. Link to article: Scientific American

All Sky, All the Time – Global Network of Robotic Telescopes ASAS-SN (Chile)
Twitter: @SuperASASSN



IRAS (13777) and GGSE-4 (2828) Potential Collision 29 Feb 2020

Twitter: LeoLabs, Inc.@LeoLabs_Space:

1/ We are monitoring a close approach event involving IRAS (13777), the decommissioned space telescope launched in 1983, and GGSE-4 (2828), an experimental US payload launched in 1967. (IRAS image credit: NASA)
9:30pm · 27 Jan 2020 

IRAS (Artist’s impression)

2/ On Jan 29 at 23:39:35 UTC, these two objects will pass close by one another at a relative velocity of 14.7 km/s (900km directly above Pittsburgh, PA). Our latest metrics on the event show a predicted miss distance of between 15-30 meters.
9:30pm · 27 Jan 2020

3/ These numbers are especially alarming considering the size of IRAS at 3.6m x 3.24m x 2.05m. The combined size of both objects increases the computed probability of a collision, which remains near 1 in 100.
9:30pm · 27 Jan 2020

Twitter: Jonathan McDowell@planet4589:

The NASA/NIVR IRAS satellite and the NRO/USN POPPY 5B satellite (aka GGSE 4) are predicted to make a close approach on Wednesday. POPPY 5B has 18-metre-long gravity gradient booms so a 15-to-30 metre predicted miss distance is alarming.

Twitter: LeoLabs, Inc.@LeoLabs_Space:

Our latest data on the IRAS / GGSE 4 event shows potential miss distances of 13-87 meters, with a lowered collision probability currently at 1 in 1000. Time of closest approach remains at 2020-01-29 23:39:35.707 UTC
11:43pm · 28 Jan 2020

The two satellites at almost closest approach (10 second tick marks)
The satellites are travelling in opposite directions. [Image: AGI/G7IZU]

Twitter: LeoLabs, Inc.@LeoLabs_Space

1/ Our latest update this morning for IRAS / GGSE 4 shows a 12m miss distance, with a Probability of Collision (Pc) back to 1 in 100. Here is a plot of our last five days worth of miss distance updates on this event:

2/ The 12m total miss distance has components of: 11m radially 0m in-track 5m cross-track
3/ Since we learned that GGSE 4 has a deployed 18m boom and we do not know which direction it is facing relative to IRAS, this changes the assumptions used in computing collision risk.
4/ Adjusting our calculations to account for larger object sizes (by increasing our combined Hard Body Radius from 5m to 10m), this yields an updated collision probability closer to 1 in 20.
5/ Though it is still unlikely that these objects will collide, we have tasked our radars to schedule longer duration tracking on both objects following the event to search for evidence of any new debris (and hopefully not find any!)
3:51 PM · Jan 29, 2020

11:39:35 PM 29 Jan 2020… Aaaannnd… they missed!

Twitter: LeoLabs, Inc.@LeoLabs_Space
We are pleased to report that in the first several radar passes of the two objects after the close approach, we see no evidence of new debris. This event has served to highlight the collision risks caused by derelict satellites in LEO.
5:04 AM · Jan 30, 202

Twitter: Greg@Greg_NJ

A Television Satellite Might be About to Explode

27 Jan 2020 [Article: Universe Today]

On Friday (Jan. 19th), authorities at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that they had granted permission to cable tv provider DirecTV to begin the process of deorbiting their Spaceway-1 (F1) satellite. This was necessary ever since DirecTV detected a “major anomaly” with the satellite’s batteries which increased the risk of an explosion if its orbit remained unchanged.

Launched in 2005, the F1 is a Boeing-manufactured High Power 702 model communication satellite, a 3,600 kg (~8000 lbs) model that broadcasts in the Ka-band of the radio spectrum and has a lifespan of 12 years. Like most communications satellites, it occupies a spot in geostationary orbit and at an altitude of about 36,000 km (mi) above the equator.


With its batteries dead, the satellite had a much higher chance of colliding with others at this time, a situation made worse by the fact that the F1 still has 73 kg (161 lbs) of propellant onboard. In short, this creates a risk where a collision would result in an explosion, which in turn would scatter debris throughout the geostationary arc – which is densely-populated by satellites.

In response, DirecTV filed with the FCC on Jan. 19th to deorbit the satellite ahead of its planned retirement date. Based on the amount of propellant it still has, the satellite would have been able to operate until 2025. The FCC quickly granted permission to DirecTV’s parent company (AT&T) to lift the satellite to a “graveyard orbit” roughly 300 km (186 mi) above the geostationary arc.

Update: The satellite has now been moved to the “graveyard” orbit.

Read more here.

Leading satellite mega-constellation companies SpaceX and OneWeb have met with astronomers in Europe to discuss the impact their operations could have on observations of the Universe.

31 Jan 2020 BBC News

The parties discussed the issues in a private meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in London, UK.

The talks were described “as positive”.

Present for OneWeb was Dr Timothy Maclay, the start-up’s director of mission systems engineering; and for SpaceX, the participant was Patricia Cooper, the California company’s vice president of satellite government affairs.

Read more here (BBC)

06 Feb 2020: The Atlantic: The Sky Will Never Be The Same Again

“Somebody puts up a shed that might obstruct my view by a foot, I can protest,” Stanek said. “But somebody can launch thousands of satellites in the sky and there’s nothing I can do? As a citizen of Earth, I was like, Wait a minute.”

Starlink satellites streak through images captured by a telescope in Chile. (NSF’S NATIONAL OPTICAL-INFRARED ASTRONOMY RESEARCH LABORATORY / CTIO / AURA / DELVE)

Astronomers’ Appeal (petition):

06 Feb 2020: OneWeb launches initial 34 satellites to begin 1,980 satellite constellation [link]

“OneWeb’s satellites are performing well, enabling the company to continue its path forward towards a fully functioning global constellation in 2021 and delivering partial service beginning as early as 2020. OneWeb’s service will broaden and innovate the use cases of satellite connectivity and will represent an important step towards enabling quality access everywhere for everyone.

“OneWeb is aggressively moving forward on the implementation of its first phase of the network which will start with an initial 650 satellites and grow up to 1,980 satellites. This first phase of the constellation will provide global coverage; and further additions to the network will be focused on adding capacity to meet growing customer demands.

“The recent satellite tests were conducted in partnership with Intellian, the developer and manufacturer of OneWeb user terminals and SatixFy, developer and manufacturer of the 125 MHz SCPC test modem. The tests included: latency, speed, jitter, seamless handover between satellites and power control. During its test, OneWeb demonstrated:

  • Extremely low latency with an average of 32 milliseconds;
  • Seamless beam and satellite handovers;
  • Accurate antenna pointing and tracking;
  • Live streamed video at resolutions up to 1080p (Full HD); and
  • Test speed rates of more than 400 Mbps.”

Talk: Mega-Constellations of LEO Satellites and Optical Astronomy 2020-Jan-24 NSF AAAC

Patrick Seitzer Department of Astronomy University of Michigan American Astronomical Society Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris


Download the slideshow presented for the above talk on the visibility of mega-constellations and their impact on astronomy:
Download PDF here (2.98 MB)

2020-02-17: New Starlink launch

The camera is operated by the Astronomical Society of the Caribbean (Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe), the largest astronomy group on the Island.  “A couple of flashes are visible ahead of the main group of satellites, perhaps from parts or a pair of Starlink satellites ahead of the others,” notes the Society.

This latest launch brings the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 300.

2020-02-25 Jonathan McDowell @planet4589:

Just for fun: here is a simulation of a typical set of positions for a 12000-sat three-shell Starlink constellation. (Note that not all will be illuminated, of course). See how the highest density is near the max latitude of 53 degrees.

In that plot, about 600 satellites are above the horizon in London.

A potential new competitor to Starlink

The owner of the Chinese company Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Li Shufu has been a billionaire wants to follow the path of Elon musk and create a private space company. To build the rocket Chinese billionaire is going: the company will create telecommunications satellites such as the Starlink. Read more…

…\Continues on page The Kessler Syndrome 2020/Q2