Astronomers worry that a small satellite swarm launched by Spacelon Elon Musk rocket company last week will ruin deep space observations of distant stars and galaxies. And they let people know about it.
On November 11, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites in low-Earth orbit, reaching a total constellation of 122 – already one of the largest satellite networks in space. The company plans to eventually launch 12,000 small-satellite satellites by mid-2020 to deliver global high-speed internet from space. The project should cost $ 10 billion.
Astronomers worry that thousands of shiny objects will clutter their observations of the sky based on the early returns of the latest launch, which set a train of satellites on an orbital course 340 miles high with a slope of 53 degrees with the equator.
"Satellite constellations can represent a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures," a statement from the International Astronomical Union in May last year said. The IAU said that reflected sunlight from the satellites would damage the sensitive optics of large observation telescopes and also interfere with new radio astronomical facilities.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory said the same month that it was holding "fruitful" discussions with SpaceX to minimize interference with its Starlink satellite observations.
Musk acknowledged his tweeting concerns shortly afterward and said he was asking engineers to reduce the reflectivity of satellites to reduce their impact on astronomy.
Recently, the American Astronomical Society has expressed concern about the large number of planned satellites that flood the night sky and lead to space collisions, filling valuable orbits with dangerous debris. SpaceX competitor OneWeb is planning its own giant constellation of broadband satellites, starting in 2020.
Astronomers make a small legal contribution to satellite light pollution, notes space writer Jeff Fust of SpaceNews. Space launches are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and satellites are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
The other two Starlink satellite launches are scheduled for the end of 201