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FAA proposes rule to reduce space debris as SpaceX launches 22 satellites into orbit
FAA proposes rule to reduce space debris as SpaceX launches 22 satellites into orbit
by Adam Schrader
Washington DC (UPI) Sep 24, 2023

SpaceX launched 22 satellites for its Starlink "constellation" into low-Earth orbit late Saturday night as the Federal Aviation Administration proposed a new rule to reduce space debris from commercial flights.

The satellites were launched by a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The first stage booster landed on a barge in the ocean named Just Read The Instructions a little over eight minutes later.

"This was the 17th flight for the first stage booster supporting this mission, which previously launched GPS III-3, Turksat 5A, Transporter-2, Intelsat G-33/G-34, Transporter-6, and now 12 Starlink missions," SpaceX said in a statement.

The launch came just a day after the FAA said it is proposing a rule to limit the growth of orbital debris from commercial space flights.

The FAA said in a statement that limiting debris will "reduce the potential for collisions with spacecraft and satellites to promote a sustainable space environment."

"If left unchecked, the accumulation of orbital debris will increase the risk of collisions and clutter orbits used for human spaceflight and for satellites providing communications, weather and global positioning system services," the FAA said.

The proposed rule would require companies like SpaceX to dispose of the upper stages of their rockets in one of five ways.

Companies would be required to either conduct a controlled entry, move the upper stage to a less congested storage or graveyard orbit, send the upper stage on an Earth-escape orbit, remove the upper stage debris within five years in a process called active debris removal, or perform and uncontrolled atmospheric disposal.

"By strictly limiting the uncontrolled reentry of upper stages, the FAA seeks to mitigate the risk to people on the ground and in flight due to its significant size and mass and the uncertainty of where it will land," the FAA said.

The rule, if adopted, would require companies to adopt orbital debris mitigation practices in line with those accepted by the U.S. government for its space missions. The proposed rule will soon be published in the federal register, kicking off a 90-day public comment period.

The FAA said that the number of orbital objects larger than about four inches is estimated to be over 23,000, as of July.

Last year, the Australian Space Agency confirmed that space debris found in the Snowy Mountains belonged to a craft built by SpaceX, The Guardian reported at the time. Meanwhile, an uncrewed rocket exploded in April causing debris to fall onto Port Isabel, a small city nearby.

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