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In Fear on dangerous collisions, NASA Raises Concerns on a new Mega-Constellation

After AST & Science requested to build a mega-constellation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), NASA raised some concerns. The constellation will be at an altitude of 270 km from the Earth’s surface. FCC is yet to respond, and for the first time in history, NASA went on record publicly regarding this particular application. It states that it is concerned about the occurrence of collisions. According to an engineer at the agency Samantha Fonder, the letter submission took place during the public comment period. Through the letter, NASA addressed the concern in detail to understand what is at stake. The fact that it has assets on the orbit makes it justifiable. There is a need to mitigate such collisions’ risks so that all involved parties don’t face dire consequences.

The request in question is one that AST & Science declares to create a mega-constellation comprising of 240 large satellites. They would facilitate cell towers’ deployment in space to provide 4G and even 5G broadband connections accessible to cell phones back on Earth. The company already has a name for the constellation, which is Space Mobile. It has also raised approximately $120 million as they wait for the FCC’s go-ahead to commence the project. NASA concerns are a result of several reasons. One of them is the altitude that AST & Science proposes. According to the agency, it lies near a constellation of 10 satellites named A-Train. The operators of those Earth-science monitoring satellites are NASA, the US Geological Survey, and Japanese and French partners. According to NASA’s letter, previous experience shows that conjunction between space objects often occur around that altitude.

Another reason is the satellites being too big since it will have several antennas and cover up to 900 square meters. The size would make it hard to maneuver around the mega-constellation. To avoid a collision, NASA would have to carry out 15,000 planning activities and 1500 mitigation actions annually. So, that would be 40 for the former and 4 for the latter daily. Again, that is something that concerns NASA of the mega-constellation idea was to see the light of the day. Lastly, NASA feels that AST & Science is missing the relevant experience. It is yet to make a satellite or a large vehicle similar to the ones creating the constellation. Therefore, there are high chances of failure of at least 10% of the 240 satellites. NASA says that the defunct satellites are hard to maneuver, which makes avoiding collision quite hard.

As far as the US Company is concerned, after reviewing NASA’s concerned, the agent need not worry about collisions. The chief scientist says that the constellation’s design can handle orbital debris. The parties look forward to FCC’s response.