ESA re-routes satellite to avoid SpaceX collision risk
FILE PHOTO: Elon Musk listens at a press conference following the first launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 6, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

The European Space Agency said Tuesday it had altered the trajectory of one of its observation satellites to avoid a possible collision with a craft operated by Elon Musk's SpaceX.

"@ESA 's #Aeolus Earth observation satellite fired its thrusters, moving it off a collision course with a @SpaceX satellite in their #Starlink constellation," the agency's official Twitter account said.

It said its scientists decided that the safest route of action was to increase the altitude of the craft, adding that the manoeuver, which occurred Monday, was "first time ever" it had acted to avoid an active satellite.

"The vast majority of ESA avoidance manoeuvers are the result of dead satellites or fragments from previous collisions," it said.

SpaceX, founded by billionaire Musk in 2002, this year launched a constellation of 60 broadband-beaming satellites, a project known as Starlink.

The initial launch prompted astronomers to raise the alarm over the risk of a possible collision and briefly threw up a spate of UFO sightings over the Netherlands.

SpaceX says the Starlink constellation could eventually reach 12,000 satellites.

Faced with an increase of privately run craft, which currently number around 20,000 in Earth's atmosphere, the ESA will hold a meeting in November focussed on space security.

It launched Aeolus, the first satellite mission to capture data on global wind patterns, last year.