Washington: NASA and Elon Musk’s private aerospace company SpaceX have signed a joint agreement to maintain and improve space safety.
The focus of the agreement is on conjunction avoidance and launch collision avoidance between NASA spacecraft and the large constellation of SpaceX Starlink satellites, as well as related rideshare missions, NASA said on Thursday.
A conjunction is defined as a close approach between two objects in space, usually at very high speed.
“Society depends on space-based capabilities for global communications, navigation, weather forecasting, and much more,” acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk, said in a statement.
“With commercial companies launching more and more satellites, it’s critical we increase communications, exchange data, and establish best practices to ensure we all maintain a safe space environment.”
The Starlink spacecraft are equipped with global navigation satellite service receivers to estimate orbital parameters, an ion propulsion system, and an autonomous manoeuvreing capability that provide data for prompt and proactive exchange of information.
Both NASA and SpaceX benefit from this enhanced interaction by ensuring all parties involved are fully aware of the exact location of spacecraft and debris in orbit.
SpaceX has agreed its Starlink satellites will autonomously or manually manoeuvre to ensure the missions of NASA science satellites and other assets can operate uninterrupted from a collision avoidance perspective.
Unless otherwise informed by SpaceX, NASA has agreed to not manoeuvre its assets in the event of a potential conjunction to ensure the parties do not inadvertently manoeuvre into one another.