SpaceX has launched several hundred of a planned constellation of several thousand Starlink satellites into nominal 550 km altitude circular orbits. The Starlink spacecraft reportedly operate largely autonomously, to include maneuvering to avoid collisions with other spacecraft and debris. Collision avoidance maneuvers are not published and may not be known even to Starlink until after they occur. Starlink operational parameters and concept of operations (ConOps) are only partly known to 18 SPCS and CARA. The Starlink constellation is therefore comprised of autonomous, non-cooperative spacecraft. The native 18 SPCS OD and O/O ephemeris are unreliable means of predicting future Starlink spacecraft positions necessary for Conjunction Assessment (CA). More concerning is that the O/O ephemeris is used for CA screening and the results are published to Starlink for use in determining avoidance maneuvers. CARA must therefore rely entirely on Starlink spacecraft to maneuver to avoid potential collisions with CARA-protected payloads while having no knowledge of the characteristics of such maneuvers or the underlying methodology used in their planning and execution. Research is therefore proposed to characterize the maneuver behavior of autonomous, non-cooperative spacecraft in response to predicted CA data by analyzing historical data using machine learning and traditional analysis techniques.
Capability to predict either specific maneuvers or a range of expected maneuvers – a maneuver envelope – that can be analyzed for post-maneuver risk to CARA-protected missions for both station keeping and avoidance maneuver operations. If successful, the approach can be applied to other non-cooperative spacecraft whether or not operating autonomously and to future mega-constellations similar to Starlink that use autonomous operations.
Government and commercial entities CA risk analysis and Space Traffic Management practitioners DoD, DoC, SpaceNav, AGI, and commercial sensor data providers. Maneuver reconstruction success will result in improved 18 SPCS OD performance by automating detection/solution of autonomous low-thrust maneuvers. Informs future policy development for CA practice by the commercial space industry.