FAA Claims Falling Satellites Will Become Deadly, SpaceX Responds

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has released a report that claims falling satellites are soon to become a deadly characteristic of life on Earth.

The FAA asserts if the current rate of satellite launches continues, we could soon find ourselves facing a harrowing reality where one person could be killed or injured by satellite debris falling from space every two years.

The FAA’s troubling projection has raised concern among experts and sparked debate on the need for increased regulation and mitigation measures.

Satellite launches are more common than most people know, with companies like SpaceX leading the way in deploying large constellations of satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO). While these constellations could go a long way in expanding global connectivity, they may also pose significant risks.

The FAA report highlights extreme growth of satellite debris entering the Earth’s atmosphere as a result of these launches.

The report predicts that some 28,000 pieces of satellite debris could sustain re-entry annually by 2035. In other words,it is actually possible that someone could be injured or killed every two years by this falling debris.

The report also lends concern over the potential impact on aircraft, noting there is a 0.07% chance of a stray satellite fragment downing an aircraft every year.

So what causes this problem? One major contributor is the sheer number of satellite launches required to deploy and maintain large LEO constellations.

The upper stages of rockets used in these launches often remain in orbit after deploying the satellites. These states, with their greater mass compared to individual satellites, are more likely to sustain re-entry and become a threat to the global population.

Assistant Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Florida Tech Dr. Madhur Tiwari told FOX 35 Orlando, “There are millions if not billions or trillions of objects which are untracked,” adding that, “3D modeling of these debris fields, using machine learning and just vision, and it’s going to happen on the spacecraft without any humans in the loop.”

Tiwari said, “The problem with space is not just the amount, but the problem is also how fast they are moving.”

Mark Marquette, a liaison for the American Space Museum in Titusville, Florida, echoed that statement, noting growing congestion in the airspace as satellites de-orbit. Marquette told FOX 35, “We’ve got hundreds of third stages orbiting the Earth that are full of fuel that wasn’t expended…This could be a hazard when they come down.”

Another factor exacerbating the problem is the fantastic growth of SpaceX’s Starlink. The report suggests that if this expansion continues as predicted, the casualty expectation due to debris from Starlink satellites sustaining re-entry would reach 0.6 per year by 2035.

SpaceX wasted no time addressing the claims made in the report, calling on the FAA to revise it, calling its findings “deeply flawed.”

SpaceX has argued the FAA analysis used to calculate risks is flawed and fails to consider the specific design of their satellites. SpaceX claims their satellites are designed to burn up completely upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, thereby minimizing the risk of debris.

This design scheme was actually suggested by the FAA as one of many solutions to mitigate the potential dangers it claims are created by falling satellites.

SpaceX noted they have already successfully deorbited 325 satellites since 2020 without any reported debris findings.

SpaceX could be ahead of the game, but the FAA report did highlight the need for industry-wide solutions to address the growing problem of space debris and falling satellites.

Some members of the public were quick to defend SpaceX.

There may also be an argument to be made about the number of lives that could be saved by the company’s plans for expansion.

Government collaboration with space agencies, satellite operators and regulatory bodies will be essential to develop global guidelines that address this risk. Eyes on the skies, folks.