SpaceX Just Launches 57 New Starlink Satellites with Controversial Sun Shades

After a two-month hiatus, SpaceX has restarted batches of dozens of satellites in its gambit to blanket the Earth with high-speed Internet access.

Satellites are a new “visorsat” variety to make less bright on the ground and especially astronomers’ telescopes. But researchers say the experimental new facility of the spacecraft, while helpful, will not completely solve the problems posed by StarLink’s existence (or other planned thousands-strong satellite fleet for that matter).

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, calls its Internet project Starlink, and can deploy thousands of broadband Internet-beaming satellites in low-Earth orbit. At 1:12 pm ET on Friday, one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets Launched A new batch of them, with two Earth-imaging spacecraft built by BlackSky Global.

SpaceX fitted all of its 57 desk-sized StarLink satellites with a new feature: the vision or shadow of the sun.

Satellites must deploy sunlight after launch and prevent the satellites’ surfaces from reflecting – the glow that appears as a Starlink spacecraft, trails moving through the night sky that can make photobomb telescope observations , Can smear microscopic astronomical objects, and even hinder the search for the killer. Asteroids.

Astronomer Jonathan McDowell says these visitors will probably make the satellites less shiny, but this will not prevent them from interfering with astronomy.

In June, he told Business Insider, “If you find out where you want a visitor to be, you should be able to cut those reflections. And that won’t make satellites naked-eyed objects, which is good.” “This, perhaps, would not make them so unconscious that they would not be a problem for professional astronomers.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

5e21dec262fa814d054e80c4An illustration of the Starlink satellite. (Space x)

Astronomers fear SpaceX’s luminous satellite may wipe stars

After SpaceX launched its first set of Starlink satellites in May 2019, many astronomers were surprised at how bright the new objects were. In the days following the launch, people around the world watched the train of satellites, like a line of wires.

Astronomer James Sargent said, “I felt as if the life of an astronomer and the night sky would never be the same,” new York Times in November.

“If there are many and many bright things in the sky, it affects our job a lot,” said Loewenthal. “This is potentially a threat to astronomy itself.”

On Earth telescopes that seek away, dim objects can pick up these false stars and ruin astronomers’ data. A single satellite can create a continuous streak of light in long-expanding images of the telescope of the sky, which astronomers want to study.

McDellwell said, “It takes the satellite just a few seconds to cross the field of binoculars, but we take really long exposures with our cameras. So in that couple of seconds, a full 10- or 15-minute exposure. Gets wasted, ”said MacDell. .

Satellites can particularly affect telescopes that observe horizons close to dawn – such observations that help astronomers track asteroids flying close to Earth.

SpaceX is sharing StarLink’s orbital-path data with astronomers so that they can plan their telescope observations around the satellites’ movements. Briefly shutting down the camera because long-risk image can be saved by passing over the satellite.

To date, SpaceX has flown about 600 Starlink spacecraft into orbit – the most of any satellite operator. But Kasturi’s grand ambitions could make it practically impossible for astronomers to avoid fast-growing satellites.

SpaceX already has permission to launch about 12,000 satellites, and last year additional clearances were sought to bring a total of 42,000 satellites into orbit. And that’s not counting the plans of other providers.

“If they are coming all the time, knowing that they are coming is not helpful,” McDowell said. Even now, he said, sometimes astronomers cannot escape photobombers.

It is not yet clear how well Visorus works.

It is unclear how effective SpaceX’s new visitors will be, although the company launched an experimental “Vizorset” on June 3 to test the concept. SpaceX has yet to report the results of that test.

“We are still waiting to reach our operational orbit,” Umei Zhou, integration and test engineer for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship, said during the live broadcast of the launch early Friday.

Launching an entire fleet of visually equipped satellites, without being widely shared, or possibly knowing, seems similar to the results of the experimental spacecraft Weiser for McDowell.

“I think what this demonstrates is that they are more confident now that they understand the sources of the problem,” he said.

The company previously did not expect the Vizor-Free Starlink satellite to complete its five-year life span, Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s vice president of satellite government relations, told SpaceFlight Now in May. This means that, in a few years, luminous satellites can no longer appear in the sky.

Satellite constellations remove major problems that visitors cannot fix

Starlink’s fleet caught astronomers’ attention for how bright it was, but it revealed a much bigger problem: the sky may soon be in flocks with false stars.

SpaceX is not the only company to build a huge fleet of satellites. Companies like Amazon and OneWeb have similar aspirations to set up their fleet and rake in billions of dollars every year.

“If OneWeb goes ahead and launches its proposed planetarium without quenching, it is going to have a very serious impact on land-based astronomy on the basis that for at least four months in a year, it will be the most More impossible. Observations, “McDowell said.

“You can close the observatory for the summer months, because there are too many satellites spoiling their data.”

Reducing solar reflectance is also all. Astronomers also worry about invisible wavelengths of light that stand to compromise other forms of astronomy.

The Federal Communications Commission, which authorizes the flight and use of Internet-beaming satellites in the US, says preventing disruption for astronomy is “no prerequisite” for licensing – so SpaceX is pursuing its own solution Used to be. Sources known to Business Insider also say that Amazon’s Kuiper satellite-internet project is working with astronomers to reduce the impact of those satellites.

But SpaceX and others have yet to announce measures to mitigate the potential damage to radiations that transmit satellites, or the infrared light they emit by generating heat. Both can interfere with telescopes on Earth that observe the sky using radio or infrared.

“We’re in a new phase of space usage. It’s a new space industrial revolution, things are different, and astronomy is going to be affected,” McDowell said.

“We just have to make sure that we are part of the conversation, so we can keep it at the level of ‘neck pain’, not at the level of ‘giving up and going home’.”

Dave Mosher contributed reporting.

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

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