Everyone remembers their first time: ESA satellite dodges 'mega constellation'

Spoiler: Yes, it was SpaceX's Starlink


The European Space Agency (ESA) accomplished a first today: moving one of its satellites away from a potential collision with a "mega constellation".

The constellation in question was SpaceX's Starlink, and the firing of the thrusters of the Aeolus Earth observation satellite was designed to raise the orbit of the spacecraft to allow SpaceX's satellite to pass beneath without risking a space slam.

The ESA operations team confirmed that this morning's manoeuvre took place approximately half an orbit before the potential pileup. It also warned that, with further Starlink satellites in the pipeline and other constellations from the likes of Amazon due to launch, performing such moves manually would soon become impossible.

If plans to orbit thousands more satellites (to bring broadband to remote areas, or inflict it on air-travellers, for example) come to fruition, the ESA team reckons that things will need to be a lot more automated. Acronyms such as AI have been bandied around to create debris and constellation avoidance systems that move faster than the current human-based approach.

We contacted SpaceX to get its take on ESA's antics, but nothing has yet emerged from Musk's media orifice. If it does, we will update this article accordingly.

While this is a first for a "mega constellation", ESA is well practiced at dodging satellites, although mostly dead ones (or debris.) In 2018, the boffins keeping track of things had to perform 28 manoeuvres. A swerve to miss an active spacecraft is, however, unusual.

Aeolus itself was launched on 22 August 2018, and is designed to acquire profiles of the Earth's winds, handy for understanding the dynamics of weather and improving forecasting.

You can make your own joke about nervous squeaks of flatulence as scientists realised that the spacecraft, designed to spend just over three years in orbit, was headed toward a possible mash-up with one of Musk's finest.

The incident serves as a timely reminder of the risks of flinging up thousands of small satellites to blanket the Earth with all manner of services. Keeping the things out of the way of each other and those spacecraft with more scientific goals will be an ever increasing challenge if the plans of Musk et al become a reality. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021