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Home > New Gear > Starlink: Elon Musk wants the world connected to the Internet, but one mistake is enough for the dream to turn into a nightmare
Starlink: Elon Musk wants the world connected to the Internet, but one mistake is enough for the dream to turn into a nightmare

Starlink: Elon Musk wants the world connected to the Internet, but one mistake is enough for the dream to turn into a nightmare

By  Julio Ventura 2019-06-15 727 0

Altruistic design vs. space junk. Elon Musk's plan for the four corners of the planet to access the Internet is not without risks.

In December 2017, at an audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum in the USA in Simi Valley, California, the Chief of Strategic Command, General John Hyten, made a surprising and striking denunciation, even if involved in some mystery...

The General said that since 1991, Russia and China had realized how well the U.S. Armed Forces had used their satellite network in military operations such as the Gulf War, and that they are currently looking for ways to deny the U.S. and its allies the ability to do so with the same effectiveness in the future.

According to the General, both Russia and China are developing anti-satellite space weapons (ASATs), based on laser technology and without making much of a secret of it. It should be noted that the US satellite system is the only way, for example, to detect a nuclear attack, possibly by North Korea, of which Russia and China are sympathetic.

A test that "changed everything".

It is now known that on January 11, 2007, Major General William Shelton was at California's Vandenberg Air Force Base, with a phone in each ear receiving updates on an unannounced trial from China.

This day, around 3:00 p.m., U.S. infrared sensor radars accompanied a Chinese missile, which it raised from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, flew up to 800 km from Earth in altitude (the international space station is at 500 km altitude), approached a disabled Chinese satellite, and a "flash" was subsequently recorded....

This test of an ASAT (anti-satellite weapon) destroyed a satellite orbiting at 27,000 km/hour. At the time and with apprehension, General William Shelton stated that this action "changed everything".

The Spatial Garbage created with the anti-satellite test...

With this test from China, 3000 pieces flew faster than a bullet in space, and in orbit of the Earth. And then by bad luck, on February 20, 2008 there was another problem: the U.S. was forced to shoot down one of its spy satellites, since it had a malfunction at the beginning of the mission.

The American satellite had on board about half a ton of hydrazine, a toxic chemical, and if it crashed on Earth it would have very serious consequences. This left the USA with its hands tied and it was forced to destroy it in space.

And as a misfortune never comes alone, in 2009 two satellites collided about 800 km from Earth, over Siberia. A US commercial satellite owned by Iridium, launched in 1997 and weighing 560 kg, collided with a Russian satellite that had been launched in 1993 and weighed around one tonne. This collision resulted in another 2,000 shards, with new wrecks giving rise to new cascading collisions, which in turn give rise to more space debris.

It was estimated at about 150,000 pieces of space debris in orbit until the recent Indian mission "Shakti" on March 27 this year. On that date, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on Twitter and television welcoming the destruction with an ASAT of an Indian satellite in low Earth orbit (300 km altitude), about 3 minutes after the launch.

In response to this action, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, at a press conference on NASA TV on 1 April, warned that the recent test from India had created 60 new pieces that were left flying in high speed orbit, which are large enough to be tracked. Of these 60 pieces, 24 were launched into a higher orbit than the International Space Station (ISS), thus putting it at risk.

Don Kessler and Kessler "Effect"!

This debris or space debris that flies at very high speeds in orbit of the Earth creates what is called the Kessler effect, named so because it was defined by Don Kessler of NASA in 1978.

This theory defends that this type of space debris meets with time other targets or probes and increases the number of debris, generating a curtain in orbit of the Earth that is insurmountable for decades or hundreds of years, by our technology. In other words, to put an end to space exploration once we are locked in a gravitational prison, since it is not possible to overcome the Earth's orbit without having a significant number of collisions - which generates even more debris.

It is true that every 11 years, approximately, the solar cycles cause the planet Earth to receive more solar energy. This amount of extra energy causes the lower layers of the atmosphere to "dilate," which gives rise to an expansion of gases in the upper part of the atmosphere. These gases will slow down the speed of objects in orbit, causing them to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and be vaporized.

This mechanism of space hygiene in orbit of the Earth, however, is not enough to clean up all the space debris that is being released by humans.

If you look at the ESA (European Space Agency) data, updated on January 1, 2019, there are about 8950 satellites that have been launched to date, of which 5000 are still in space, although only 1950 are working. There are 22,300 wrecks that are tracked regularly because we have 8400 tons of objects placed in orbit.

And Elon Musk had an idea...

On May 23rd this year, a Falcon 9 rocket launcher put 60 SpaceX satellites into orbit, which are part of a constellation of satellites that will hit 12,000 satellites in the future. The goal is to provide Internet coverage throughout the world, and this seems to be an altruistic goal...

But two weeks ago Jan Hattenbach, Senior Space Debris Mitigation Analyst at the European Space Agency (ESA), recalled that what Elon Musk and SpaceX are doing in practice is doubling the amount of traffic in orbit (compared to the 5000 satellites in orbit), making more than double what we did in 60 years in 2 years. This raises substantially the possibility of generating an event in "cascade", since a collision originates many others.

To launch a satellite mission in the USA, which is exchanging data with the Earth, you need a license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). And in order to obtain such a license, companies must demonstrate what they will do with regard to the mitigation of space debris.

The point is that nothing like this has ever been released and with these proportions... And therefore, it will only really be known after the measure is implemented, but there are already reasons for concern, as OneWeb, Facebook and Amazon have also expressed interest in launching networks similar to Elon Musk's Starlink...

A brighter and more confusing sky...

Also Megan Donahue, president of the American Astronomical Society, stated a few days ago that she is very concerned about Starlink satellites. In fact, the satellites that Elon Musk described as "barely visible" shine as brightly as some astronomical constellations, as well as "scratching" the sky.

According to the president, these bright satellites cause significant disruption to nearby optical and infrared observations, contaminate radio astronomical observations with electromagnetic radiation in satellite communication bands, and there is a serious risk of collision with space-based observatories.

However, the total revenue from Internet connectivity generates about a billion dollars annually, and when the Starlink is up and running, according to Elon Musk, about 3 to 5 percent of that revenue will be used, according to him, to make his Starship's missions (with capacity to transport 100 astronauts/passengers) to Mars and the Moon possible.

In addition to generating profits, Starlink also generates a confounding factor. When bright satellites fly in the field of view of space observatories, they can disguise with their glow something very dangerous, such as an asteroid heading for Earth. This was denounced by astronomer Alex Parker at Live Science.

And about the risk of impact of a celestial body like an asteroid, we enumerate several impacts with gigantic proportions that planet Earth has already suffered in the past in this article. It's only a matter of time before it happens again. Remember that the impact of an asteroid on Tuguska in Siberia on June 30, 1908 was 1,000 times greater than the Hiroshima bomb, having felled 80 million trees in an area of 2,150 square kilometers, followed by an earthquake grade 5 on the Richter scale.

It remains to be seen, therefore, whether the execution of SpaceX's Starlink mission will go well, and will represent a great advance for mankind, because to go wrong you only need a small mistake, or even a small misfortune. If there are unforeseen events, it can even be a catastrophe of epic proportions.

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