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SpaceX reports a ‘bug’ after satellite close call

Satellite paths
A computer-generated diagram shows the projected orbital paths of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite and the European Space Agency’s Aeolus satellite. (ESA Graphic via Twitter)

The European Space Agency says it performed a collision avoidance maneuver over the Labor Day weekend to head off a potential crash between its Aeolus wind-measuring satellite and one of SpaceX’s Starlink broadband data satellites.

In a series of tweets, ESA said the Sept. 2 event marked the first such maneuver taken to avoid an active satellite in what’s expected to become a “mega constellation” of thousands of satellites — and it warned that such maneuvers posed a grave challenge for future orbital traffic management.

“As the number of satellites in orbit increases … today’s ‘manual’ collision avoidance process will become impossible,” ESA tweeted.

The space agency said the maneuver was executed successfully about half an orbit before the close encounter.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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