With the launch of thousands of satellites into the low Earth orbit (LEO), less than 1,000 kilometres or 625 miles from the surface by billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX, looms a threat of catastrophic collisions rendering this space impractical, competitor Arianespace’s head Stephane Israel has warned, news agency AFP reported.
At a recent United Nations-sponsored conference on sustainable space development goals in Geneva, Israel also warned of a "de-facto monopolisation" of space by Musk’s company.
Giving example, he said of over 9,000 satellites sent into orbit since 1957, SpaceX’s share is 1,677 as part of its Starlink project. He added that today 35 percent of all satellites in operation belong to one man, Elon Musk. "And if you include satellites of more than 50 kg, that's more than 50 percent," the AFP report mentioned.
According to the report, Musk's Starlink constellation project recently received authorisation from the United States regulator, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to provide broadband from space and place thousands of satellites in a lower orbit than previously proposed, angering several competitors. The SpaceX plan is to blanket poorly connected and isolated areas of the world with internet connectivity.
Rivals, however, claim the lower altitude could increase the risk of collision of satellites and heightened radio interference.
"We want space to remain accessible for human activities... but we refuse a Wild West space. It is our responsibility to ensure that the low orbit above the Earth is sustainable in the long term," Israel told the UN-sponsored conference.
He added that recent years had seen several collisions, at least two of them involving Starlink satellites, warning that "very quickly, we could find ourselves in a catastrophic scenario that would render this orbit impractical."
SpaceX has requested FCC authorisation for up to 42,000 satellites. That has put pressure on Arianespace, a joint venture between Airbus and French multinational Safran, to ramp up its own launches.
According to Fortune Business Insights, the global market size of space launch services was $12.67 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $26.16 billion by 2027.