Astronomers are concerned that a small satellite swarm launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company last week ruined space observations of distant stars and galaxies. And they are letting people know about it.
On November 11, SpaceX launched 60 "Starlink" satellites in low Earth orbit, bringing the total size of constellations to 122 – already one of the largest satellite networks in space. The company plans to launch 12,000 of the small broadband satellites by the mid-2020s to provide global high-speed internet from space. The project is expected to cost $ 10 billion.
And astronomers are concerned that thousands of shiny objects mess up their observations of the sky, based on early returns from the latest launch, which set a satellite train on its way to its final orbits, 340 miles high and a tilt of 53 meters. degrees with the equator.
"Satellite constellations can pose a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures," the International Astronomical Union said in a statement last May. IAU said sunlight reflected by satellites will damage the sensitive optics of large observation telescopes and will also interfere with new radio astronomy facilities.
The same month's National Radio Astronomy Observatory said it was having "fruitful" discussions with SpaceX about how to minimize interference with its observations of Starlink satellites.
Musk acknowledged the concerns in a tweet soon after and said he was asking engineers to reduce satellite reflectivity to lessen their impact on astronomy.
More recently, the American Astronomical Society has expressed concern about the large number of planned satellites that dominate the night sky and lead to space collisions, filling valuable orbits with hazardous debris. SpaceX competitor OneWeb is planning its own giant constellation of broadband satellites from 2020.
Astronomers have little legal recourse for satellite light pollution, noted SpaceNews space writer Jeff Foust. Space launches are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and satellites are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Two more Starlink satellite launches are planned for the remainder of 2019.