TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX called on the Federal Aviation Administration to correct a report to Congress warning that, by 2035, falling debris from U.S.-licensed constellations in low Earth orbit (LEO) could injure or kill someone every two years if they deploy as planned.
In an Oct. 9 letter to the FAA and Congress seen by SpaceNews, SpaceX principal engineer David Goldstein said the report relied on “deeply flawed analysis” based on assumptions, guesswork, and outdated studies. The letter came four days after SpaceNews contacted the company with questions about the report, published Oct. 5 on the FAA’s website.
In the report, the regulator said 28,000 hazardous fragments from de-orbiting satellites and the rockets that launch them could be surviving reentry each year by 2035 — particularly if SpaceX’s rapid Starlink expansion plans remain on track.
SpaceX has launched 5,000 Starlink satellites since 2019, has permission from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to grow the constellation to 12,000, and is seeking international approvals to eventually expand to 40,000 Starlinks in orbit. According to the FAA report, Starlink represents more than 85% of the expected risk to people on the ground and aviation from falling debris in the timeframe.
The FAA was directed by Congress in 2020 to issue a report on the risks associated with the reentry disposal of satellites from LEO megaconstellations. In 2021, the FAA commissioned the Aerospace Corp., a federally funded nonprofit focused on space, to provide a technical assessment of the rise of LEO constellations and the risks posed to aviation and people on the ground by unplanned and controlled reentries of these satellites and the upper stages that launch them.
The FAA told Aerospace Corp. to focus on non-geostationary satellites launched by the United States under FAA licenses, so the analysis excluded constellations such as China’s proposed 13,000-satellite Guowang…