. 24/7 Space News .
SpaceX's Starlink satellites are about to ruin stargazing for everyone
by Samantha Lawler | University of Regina
Regina, Canada (SPX) Nov 19, 2020

A Starlink satellite train on route to their operational orbits.

I walk outside my rural Saskatchewan house before dawn and look up, expecting to have my breath taken away by the sheer number of stars overhead. I'm a professional astronomer, but I still appreciate naked-eye stargazing as much as an eager child. This is the first place I've lived that's dark enough to easily see the Milky Way, and I'm stunned and awed every time I look up.

This time though, I curse softly. There's a bright satellite. And another following behind. And another. And another.

I used to be excited about seeing artificial satellites, but now I know what's coming. We're about to undergo a dramatic transition in our experience of satellites. No longer will you escape your city for a camping trip and see the stars unobstructed: you will have to look through a grid of crawling, bright satellites no matter how remote your location.

Crowded orbits
If mega-constellations of satellites become reality, the night sky will become a mundane highway of moving lights, obscuring the stars. Now, every time I see the bright reflection of a satellite tracking across the stars, I am reminded of what has already been approved by the United States Federal Communications Commission - the agency that regulates frequencies broadcast by satellites over the U.S., effectively putting itself in charge of regulating every space launch on the planet.

SpaceX has already received approval for 12,000 Starlink satellites and is seeking approval for 30,000 more. Other companies are not far behind.

The Starlink mega-constellation itself would increase the number of active satellites more than tenfold: there are around 3,000 active satellites in orbit; current Starlinks are brighter than 99 per cent of them because they are in lower orbits, closer to the surface of Earth, and more reflective than Starlink engineers predicted.

SpaceX is launching sets of 60 satellites every couple of weeks, and there will be a thousand Starlinks in orbit by Christmas 2020.

With the naked eye, stargazing from a dark-sky location allows you to see about 4,500 stars. From a typical suburban location, you can see about 400. Simulations show that from 52 degrees north (the latitude of both Saskatoon and London, U.K.) hundreds of Starlinks will be visible for a couple of hours after sunset and before sunrise (comparable to the number of visible stars) and dozens of these will be visible all night during the summer months.

Light pollution has long been a threat to stargazing, but at least that can be escaped by leaving urban centres.

But satellites will be a global star-obscuring phenomenon, particularly bad at the latitudes of northern U.S. states, Canada and much of Europe.

Stellar sacrifices
To their credit, SpaceX and Amazon - which is also investing in satellite internet services - have voluntarily started participating in discussions with professional astronomers on possible ways to mitigate the effects of thousands of bright satellites on specific observations, like interstellar objects.

SpaceX did also try a "darksat" coating, though preliminary measurements by astronomers showed that it was only marginally fainter than other Starlinks. Meanwhile, launches continue with unmitigated, bright Starlinks.

Simulations show that professional astronomy and amateur astrophotography will be severely affected by bright mega-constellations. Discoveries of hazardous near-Earth asteroids will be particularly devastated by the hundreds of Starlinks confusing their targets, leaving Earth more vulnerable to world-altering impacts.

The point of the Starlink mega-constellation is to provide global internet access. It is often stated by Starlink supporters that this will provide internet access to places on the globe not currently served by other communication technologies. But currently available information shows the cost of access will be too high in nearly every location that needs internet access. Thus, Starlink will likely only provide an alternate for residents of wealthy countries who already have other ways of accessing the internet.

Crowding the night sky
Even if SpaceX changes its plans, other companies are actively developing separate megaconstellations, and there are more in the works.

Currently, there are no rules about satellite orbits or right-of-way, and if a collision (or multiple collisions) should occur, it's not clear who would be at fault and who would have to clean up the debris (if that is even possible to do). The only international law that applies to satellite debris, from 1972, basically says that the country who launched the satellite has to clean up any mess it leaves on the surface of the Earth after crashing.

Most satellites today are launched by private companies not governments, and most satellite debris remains abandoned in orbit, because there are no rules about clean-up. There are thousands of pieces of this space junk, ranging in size from bolts to bus-sized dead satellites.

With tens of thousands of new satellites approved for launch, and no laws about orbit crowding, right-of-way or space cleanup, the stage is set for the disastrous possibility of Kessler Syndrome, a runaway cascade of debris that could destroy most satellites in orbit and prevent launches for decades.

Losing our connections
As human beings, we have deep connections to the stars that extend back to the dawn of humanity and, indeed, we are made of material from ancient stars.

The Native Skywatchers program celebrates humanity's time-honoured love of the night sky and shares Indigenous knowledge of astronomy. A Dakota Elder recently shared her traditional knowledge of the skies: the Blue Woman spirit To Wi? lives in Wichakiyuhapi (the Big Dipper), where she guides new babies from the Star Nation into our world and waits to greet our spirits at the door as we leave our world.

Large corporations like SpaceX and Amazon will only respond to legislation - which is slow, especially for international legislation - and consumer pressure. Is having another source of internet worth losing access to unobstructed stargazing for yourself and nearly every other person on the planet? Our species has been stargazing for thousands of years, do we really want to lose access now for the profit of a few large corporations?

On your next clear night, go outside and look up. Enjoy the stars that you can see now, because without big changes in the plans of corporations that want to launch mega-constellations, your view of the stars is about to change dramatically.

Related Links
The latest information about the Commercial Satellite Industry

Thanks for being there;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5+ Billed Monthly

paypal only
SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once

credit card or paypal

China launches new mobile telecommunication satellite
Beijing (XNA) Nov 16, 2020
China launched a Long March 3B carrier rocket on Thursday night to deploy a communications satellite into space, according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the nation's leading space contractor. The rocket blasted off at 11:59 pm at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province and then transported the Tiantong 1-02 to a geosynchronous orbit. Tiantong 1-02 is the second satellite in the Tiantong 1 system, which is developed by the China Academy of Space Technology an ... read more

Comment using your Disqus, Facebook, Google or Twitter login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Marshall team enables increased science return from International Space Station astronauts

A new doorway to space

ISS crew successfully patched hull crack Roscosmos confirms

Russian Actress, one more 'tourist' may travel to ISS to produce film in space

Skyrora conducts vacuum chamber engine tests to replicate space-like conditions

European Vega rocket failed 'because of wire mix-up'

Vega flight VV17 failure: Arianespace and ESA appoint an independent Inquiry Commission

Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion plays key role in Atlas V mission for the NRO

'Conscientiousness' key to team success during space missions

China's Mars probe travels over 300 million km

Hear audio from Perseverance as it travels through deep space

ExoMars parachute testing moves forward

China Focus: 18 reserve astronauts selected for China's manned space program

State-owned space giant prepares for giant step in space

China's Xichang launch center to carry out 10 missions by end of March

Eighteen new astronauts chosen for China's space station mission

New support for UK space hubs unveiled

SpaceX's Starlink satellites are about to ruin stargazing for everyone

China launches new mobile telecommunication satellite

EMXYS news release Series A funding round closed

Astroscale announces March 2021 Launch Date for Debris Removal Demonstration

The "Workspace Of The Future," Carnegie's VizLab Will Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe

China launches antenna array for Mars, moon missions

MDA receives commercial contracts for on-orbit servicing technologies

New Interdisciplinary Consortium for Astrobiology Research

Building blocks of life can form long before stars

Life's building blocks can form in interstellar clouds without stellar fusion

Climate Stabilization on Distant Worlds

Swedish space instrument participates in the search for life around Jupiter

Researchers model source of eruption on Jupiter's moon Europa

Radiation Does a Bright Number on Jupiter's Moon

New plans afoot beyond Pluto

The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2024 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Statement Our advertisers use various cookies and the like to deliver the best ad banner available at one time. All network advertising suppliers have GDPR policies (Legitimate Interest) that conform with EU regulations for data collection. By using our websites you consent to cookie based advertising. If you do not agree with this then you must stop using the websites from May 25, 2018. Privacy Statement. Additional information can be found here at About Us.