SpaceX satellite collision narrowly avoided after communications 'bug'

The European Space Agency (ESA) reported that it performed its first “collision avoidance manoeuver,” averting a passing SpaceX satellite.

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Data from the 18th Space Control Squadron of the U.S. Air Force alerted the ESA that its Aeolus Earth observation satellite was set to cross the path of SpaceX’s Starlink 44. A SpaceX spokesperson told that after the Air Force updated the company of the increased probability of collision — from a 1-in -0,000 chance to a 1-in-10,000 chance — “a bug in [SpaceX’s] on-call paging system prevented the Starlink operator from seeing the following correspondence on this probability increase.”

Once the probability of a crash reached a 1-in-10,000 chance — the ESA’s threshold — on Aug. 29, the agency prepared an avoidance maneuver intended to increase the European satellite’s altitude by 350 meters (approximately 1,150 feet). Monday morning commands were given to trigger the maneuver, placing Aeolus safely out of Starlink 44’s path.

“Had the Starlink operator seen the correspondence,” the SpaceX spokesperson assured FOX Business, it “would have coordinated with ESA to determine the best approach with their continuing their maneuver or our performing a maneuver.”

Starlink is, according to the company, “a next-generation satellite network capable of connecting the globe, especially reaching those who are not yet connected, with reliable and affordable broadband internet services.” 60 Starlink satellites were launched by SpaceX on May 23, making up a large constellation of satellites working in tandem with one another.

SpaceX is “still investigating the issue and will implement corrective actions.”