Elon Musk, Amazon, Boeing damage astronomy

This 10 December 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Why SpaceX Starlink is bad for Astronomy

2019 Physics Nobel laureate Prof. Didier Queloz (Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge) talks about how astronomy is being affected and will be affected by the satellite business. This is part of a longer interview on the discovery of the first exoplanet orbiting a sun-like star filmed on 27/11/2019.

“I think it’s really a threat to send not a couple of hundred of satellites but having 10, 20, 50 thousand satellites in low-Earth orbit. […] Is the society ready to lose the sky? Is the sky something that should be free or is it a new market?”, Didier Queloz said.

Translated from Belgian daily De Standaard, 2 January 2020:

Stars, planets and … satellites

In the coming years, so many satellites will go into space that astronomers will soon be unable to ignore them. The light pollution has now also reached the starry sky.

By Senne Starckx

We already knew that Elon Musk is ambitious. His plan to provide the entire world with super-fast internet from space is also not lacking in ambition. That will be clear again tomorrow – if all goes well – a Falcon 9 rocket will be launched from Cape Canaveral with no fewer than sixty satellites on board. The satellites will be placed in a 1,200-kilometer high orbit where they will become part of the Starlink network. With this, the US American billionaire hopes to be able to offer broadband internet to any earthling who has a Starlink receiver (and subscription) in a few years’ time. …

In the meantime, SpaceX has applied to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for no fewer than 30,000 satellites. …

Astronomers are worried. The International Astronomical Union has already complained to the ITU. The organization fears that private corporations such as SpaceX obscure the view of astronomers (and their telescopes on the ground) with their drive.

This drive is, of course, a consequence of the lack of laws and rules in space. The British astrophysicist Dave Clements of Imperial College London even speaks on the BBC website of the loss of “the commons that the night sky has always been”. …

However, it will soon be difficult to make images that do not show satellite, even for amateurs with relatively cheap telescopes. “For us, this is a new blow in our faces,” says Philippe Mollet of Mira Observatory in Grimbergen. “The light pollution that has been bothering us for decades when we look at the night sky from urbanized areas (where most of the old observatories are located, ed.) Is now also troubling us up there.” …

Less reflection, more warming

SpaceX has since announced that the corporation wants to do everything it can to minimize the impact of their satellites on astronomical observations. As a test, a number of satellites that will be launched tomorrow were therefore treated with a special coating that should reflect less light. “But the less radiation a satellite reflects, the more it absorbs and warms up,” says Stijn Ilsen, aerospace engineer at the Kruibeke location of satellite builder Qinetic Space. “That adaptation must therefore still be adequately tested, because it can seriously disrupt the thermal properties of the satellite (it could damage the electronics, ed.).” Ilsen does not expect that to be technically insurmountable, “provided that researchers have sufficient time ‘.

But now time and patience are scarce with hyper-ambitious corporations such as SpaceX. Especially now that there are competitors: other big corporations such as Amazon and Boeing also have plans for immense swarms of broadband satellites. The range of bandwidth that will be offered to future customers can lead companies to focus on the lowest orbits, up to a few hundred kilometers high where the satellites are best visible – sometimes even with the naked eye. “If you go higher, you lose more signal and therefore bandwidth,” says Ilsen. “With increasing altitude, your coverage does increase, so you need fewer satellites.” However, the last consideration today seems to be a thing of the past, as companies such as SpaceX no longer look at more or fewer satellite numbers and organizations such as the ITU don’t stand in their way. “It is high time that something is done,” says Mollet. “Private corporations now have free rein in space.”

New fleets of private satellites are clogging the night sky. Global internet satellites are photobombing telescopes and messing with astronomers’ research: here.

9 thoughts on “Elon Musk, Amazon, Boeing damage astronomy

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