On May 23, SpaceX launched 60 out of 12,000 Starlink telecommunication satellites. The firm wants to create ultra-fast internet services around the world.
The launch of SpaceX’s first 60 Starlink satellites has caught the attention of people around the globe. Improved internet services sound pretty awesome. But a fleet of 12,000 satellites could forever change our view of the night sky.
The Harvard-Smithsonian Center’s Jonathan McDowell and others have observed that the internet satellites are bright enough to cause a “problem” for astronomy and complicate our stargazing.
On May 24, a video taken by satellite tracker Marco Langbroek showed the 60 satellites in a “train” as they passed through the night sky.
The Starlink project will use satellites in low Earth orbit (about 500km up) to provide global internet services. They move quickly around the world but can only look down on a small fraction of the globe. That’s why Elon Musk’s SpaceX will launch another 12,000 of them to get global coverage.
Many astronomers raised fears that they will interfere with visual observations and even radio astronomy. Alex Parker suggested there could eventually be more Starlink satellites visible to the naked eye than stars.
“Imagine the outcry at similar desecration of a terrestrial environment,” said Robert Massey, deputy director of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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Ronald Drimmel from the Turin Astrophysical Observatory in Italy told Forbes: “Starlink, and other mega constellations, would ruin the sky for everyone on the planet.”
However, the vehicles will only last five years in orbit. Therefore, eventually descending to a fiery death in the atmosphere. So, this may only be a temporary issue.
Musk maintained that the constellation would not affect observations at all. “Potentially helping billions of economically disadvantaged people is the greater good,” he added.
But he later tweeted that he had asked the Starlink team to look at ways of reducing the reflectivity of the satellites. Musk even suggested that he might be interested in putting a telescope into orbit.