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Yes, Satellites Could Fall From The Sky

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You could be hit by a falling satellite, according to a congressional report by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The report alleged that by 2035, large satellite networks like SpaceX’s Starlink could fall to the Earth and cause “one person on the planet … to be injured or killed every two years.” Satellites like Starlink are meant to fall and burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their service. However, some pieces of satellite debris may not burn up and instead fall to the planet’s surface, posing a risk of injury. 

The Aerospace Corporation, the research group commissioned by the FAA to help produce the report, “assessed that the SpaceX spacecraft could each produce three pieces of debris of 300 grams.” The group cited this as a conservative estimate, adding, “with the thousands of satellites expected to reenter, even a small amount of debris can impose a significant risk over time.”

SpaceX, owned by billionaire mogul Elon Musk, called the report “preposterous, unjustified and inaccurate,” claiming that it relied “on a deeply flawed analysis that falsely characterizes reentry disposal risks associated with Starlink” in a letter obtained by CNN. “SpaceX’s satellites are designed and built to fully demise during atmospheric reentry during disposal at end of life, and they do so,” the letter added.

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Determining the exact risk from satellites is difficult “due to the uncertainties in reentry survivability calculations,” Marlon Sorge, executive director of Aerospace’s Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies, told SpaceNews. “It is very difficult to get ‘ground truth’ data on what survives reentry by observing actual reentries as they occur randomly all over the world, not usually in convenient locations.” In turn, SpaceX claimed the FAA “accepted the Aerospace report without any scrutiny or diligence, and then distributed this incorrect information to Congress.”

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