‘Red alerts’ of a potential disaster were sent to the companies
By Joey Roulette Apr 9, 2021 https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/9/22374262/oneweb-spacex-satellites-dodged-potential-collision-orbit-space-force
Two satellites from the fast-growing constellations of OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink dodged a dangerously close approach with one another in orbit last weekend, representatives from the US Space Force and OneWeb said. It’s the first known collision avoidance event for the two rival companies as they race to expand their new broadband-beaming networks in space.
On March 30th, five days after OneWeb launched its latest batch of 36 satellites from Russia, the company received several “red alerts” from the US Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron warning of a possible collision with a Starlink satellite. Because OneWeb’s constellation operates in higher orbits around Earth, the company’s satellites must pass through SpaceX’s mesh of Starlink satellites, which orbit at an altitude of roughly 550 km.
One Space Force alert indicated a collision probability of 1.3 percent, with the two satellites coming as close as 190 feet — a dangerously close proximity for satellites in orbit. If satellites collide in orbit, it could cause a cascading disaster that could generate hundreds of pieces of debris and send them on crash courses with other satellites nearby.
Currently, there’s no national or global authority that would force satellite operators to take action on predicted collisions. Space Force’s urgent alerts sent OneWeb engineers scrambling to email SpaceX’s Starlink team to coordinate maneuvers that would put the two satellites at safer distances from one another.