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Home > Tech News > Starlink: SpaceX’s satellite network will pollute the night sky
Starlink: SpaceX’s satellite network will pollute the night sky

Starlink: SpaceX’s satellite network will pollute the night sky

By  Linky Johnson 2019-06-22 208 0

More satellites than stars? Astronomers fear that newly launched swarms of satellites could interfere with telescope observations. The 60 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX at the end of May caused a worldwide sensation because they were visible in the sky with the naked eye. If there were 12,000 of these small communication satellites as planned, they could severely obstruct the view of the starry sky.

More satellites than stars? Astronomers fear that newly launched swarms of satellites could interfere with telescope observations. The 60 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX at the end of May caused a worldwide sensation because they were visible in the sky with the naked eye. If there were 12,000 of these small communication satellites as planned, they could severely obstruct the view of the starry sky.

More satellites than stars? Astronomers fear that newly launched swarms of satellites could interfere with telescope observations. The 60 Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX at the end of May caused a worldwide sensation because they were visible in the sky with the naked eye. If there were 12,000 of these small communication satellites as planned, they could severely obstruct the view of the starry sky.

SpaceX's Starlink satellites are set to enter a new era of broadband Internet in 2027. The nearly 12,000 networked communication satellites will then cover the entire earth at an altitude of 550 kilometers like a network. A first test group of 60 of these satellites was launched into Earth orbit on 24 May 2019 with a Falcon 9 rocket. Due to their flat shape, these satellites could be transported in two stacks and released at once.

Light points in the sky

The Starlink satellites caused a sensation mainly because they were visible as a band of bright light points in the sky in the days after their launch. Their flat, shiny metal surface reflected the sunlight and this was clearly visible due to their low altitude. Contrary to the assurances made in advance by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the light points even outshined bright stars.

Exactly this is now causing concern among astronomers as well. They are afraid that swarms of satellites like Starlink could also severely impede the exploration of the starry sky in the future. "I find it laudable and an impressive engineering achievement to expand the possibilities of Internet access in this way," says Megan Donahue, President of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). "But I, like many astronomers, am concerned about the future of these bright new satellites."

Interference signals in the telescope

"The number of such satellites is expected to rise to tens of thousands over the next few years," says AAS. "This creates the danger of potentially harmful consequences for Earth-based and space-based astronomy. Not only SpaceX, but also companies such as Airbus, Telesat, Amazon and Oneweb have already announced that they will also bring satellite networks into orbit. Astronomers therefore fear that more satellites may soon be seen as stars in the sky.

Satellite swarms in low Earth orbit are also a problem not only for observing the sky in visible light, but also for infrared and radio astronomy, as astronomers explain. Space-based observatories and space telescopes would also be hampered and potentially endangered by the shoals of satellites. Some images of such telescopes are already unusable because satellites flew through the image at the wrong moment.

"The night sky is a resource not only for astronomers, but for all who look up to enjoy and understand the splendor of the universe," says Jeffrey Hall of Lowell Observatory. "The degradation of this sight therefore has many negative effects beyond astronomy.

Conversations with SpaceX and Co

SpaceX has designed its satellites in such a way that after five years of operation, they will steer into the atmosphere and burn up. However, the negative consequences during their operation have apparently not been taken into account. AAS is now working with SpaceX and other satellite operators to find possible solutions. "Only with a profound and quantitative understanding of the problem can we fully assess the risks and look for appropriate countermeasures," said the astronomers.

Some of the negative effects could perhaps be avoided, for example, if the satellites were given a duller, less reflective surface. "I am confident that in our discussions with SpaceX we will find creative solutions that can serve as models for other companies," says Donahue.

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