Wed. Aug 17th, 2022

Viasat urged the Federal Communications Commission to launch an environmental analysis of the Starlink broadband constellation of SpaceX, alleging that the satellite system poses environmental risks in space as well as on Earth. Viasat officially asked in a December 22 submission that the FCC performs either an environmental review or Starlink’s more stringent environmental impact statement before accepting a SpaceX proposal to change its current system license to allow approximately 3,000 additional satellites in the lower orbits to operate.

For a long time, satellite systems have had what is regarded as a categorical exception from NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), allowing federal agencies such as the FCC to determine their operations’ environmental impacts. The exception, adopted by the FCC in the mid-1980s, was based on an analysis at the moment that particular satellite launches wouldn’t even have observable environmental consequences. Viasat claimed in its request that SpaceX’s Starlink system size, officially approved for about 12,000 satellites, shifts the equation.

“But given the huge volume of satellites at question here, and also the exceptional nature of the treatment of them as efficiently expendable by SpaceX, the possible environmental damages related to the proposed adjustment of SpaceX is important,” the firm said. According to Viasat, “Depending on the Commission’s many years-old categorical exclusion to avoid even investigating the environmental impacts of the SpaceX amendment plan would not only breach NEPA but would also unnecessarily endanger the environmental, health, safety, esthetic and economic priorities it tries to preserve and damage the interests of the public.” 

The petition tackles orbital debris in part. In recent weeks, Viasat has been a strong critic in FCC filings regarding Starlink satellites’ stability and fears that the increasing debris population in LEO might be applied to satellites that crash in orbit. The corporation quoted figures that reported a malfunction rate of up to 7%, but that included a few of the initial “v0.9” Starlink satellites deployed in May 2019 that have been purposely deorbiting SpaceX over the past few months. SpaceX responded that its on-orbit loss rate is much smaller. Still, Viasat claimed that, as part of the environmental study, the FCC should determine the potential probability of increased collisions.

“The Authority cannot take the word from SpaceX that the hundreds of satellites it seeks to load into the lower orbit will not substantially increase the risk of crashes and generate unnecessary space debris, particularly as SpaceX understands that it can often deploy further when its satellites crash with other planetary systems and break or fail,” it said.

By admin