Space

Viasat advises the FCC to investigate the environmental effects of the Starlink satellites

Summary

Viasat has urged the FCC to undertake an environmental analysis of Starlink’s competing SpaceX proposal, alleging that the resultant constellation of hundreds of broadband satellites may be harmful to the Earth’s atmosphere, raise the risk of crashes triggering space debris, […]

Viasat has urged the FCC to undertake an environmental analysis of Starlink’s competing SpaceX proposal, alleging that the resultant constellation of hundreds of broadband satellites may be harmful to the Earth’s atmosphere, raise the risk of crashes triggering space debris, and create large quantities of light pollution.   The request by Viasat, identified in this December 22 submission with the FCC, arises from the recommendation by SpaceX to adjust its launch by reducing the orbital altitude of almost 3,000 Starlink satellites. The satellite networks also earned a categorical exception from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that includes the FCC as well as other organizations to determine their activities’ environmental effects as Space News pointed out.

Viasat insists that the proposal of Starlink to launch hundreds of satellites (The FCC has approved the SpaceX Firm to launch around 12,000 satellites) adds additional factors and possible threats that can prevent this exemption. Consequently, Viasat advises the FCC to reject or delay the proposed alteration of SpaceX and, at the very minimum, to schedule an environmental assessment (EA) before proceeding on the application of SpaceX.

The petition appears as Starlink works for the commercial deployment of a broadband satellite infrastructure that will focus on a cluster of the Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites which will contend with high-orbit, geosynchronous (GEO) satellite broadband networks from firms such as Viasat and Hughes Network Systems. Testing performed previous fall by Ookla showed that 79 Mbit/s down and 13.8 Mbit/s up provided average speeds for a trial version of Starlink’s infrastructure, far higher than GEO-based networks currently offered by both Viasat as well as Hughes. Viasat exploring alternative LEO-based systems that focus on much fewer satellites than the Starlink’s proposal claims that there are some potential issues with SpaceX’s attempt to launch hundreds of satellites into the low-Earth orbit. The opportunities for crashes that could produce orbital debris that will contaminate space further and emit toxic chemicals into the atmosphere are amongst them. The Commission cannot acknowledge the word from SpaceX that the hundreds of satellites it intends to cram into a lower orbit would not significantly raise the likelihood of collisions and create unnecessary space debris since SpaceX recognizes that it can still launch further when its satellites interfere with other space objects as well as a fragment or fail,” Viasat said. Viasat also believes that SpaceX stresses satellite replaceability “merely to pursue its economic interests.” over safety and reliability.

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