Too many satellites: why there must finally be traffic rules for space

Too many satellites: why there must finally be traffic rules for space

When the automobile was invented more than a hundred years ago, only a few vehicles were initially on German roads. However, the more the invention spread, the greater the danger of collisions. The authorities responded by gradually enacting mandatory traffic rules. In addition, the acquisition of a driving license became mandatory. Today, this story could be repeated in space. For a long time, the cost of satellites was so high that their numbers in space remained limited. This changed in recent years but massive. Because on the one hand, more and more states set up their own space programs. On the other hand, numerous private companies also appeared on the scene.

Image: ESA – P. Carril, 2010 (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO)

Communication by e-mail was difficult

Most recently, there was a collision between a SpaceX Starlink satellite and a science satellite of the European Space Agency ESA. Although it was noticed in time that the two flying objects controlled each other. But because there are no fixed traffic rules in space, it was unclear who had to avoid it. The ESA pointed out that the own satellite had already been on this orbit for some time and therefore should remain there. A corresponding e-mail to SpaceX did not have the desired effect. The Starlink satellite remained on its course. Ultimately, the ESA therefore had to become active itself and initiate an evasive maneuver. Ultimately, such a collision could be prevented. The anecdote shows: It is finally time for binding rules.

In the future there will be less space in space

For in the coming years, the problem is likely to worsen. SpaceX has so far sent only 60 Starlink satellites into space. In the long term, however, the number is to be increased to around 12,000. Other companies have similar plans. In the long run, it should therefore not be practicable to vote each time by e-mail, who has to dodge now. In general, the less actors in space are active, the easier it will be to agree on generally accepted rules. Since the number of private companies is likely to increase in the next few years, should be timely. Especially since evasive maneuvers are not uncommon today. In most cases, however, not other active satellites are avoided, but no longer controllable space junk.


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