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posted by martyb on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:25AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the 12000-points-of-light dept.

SpaceX satellites pose new headache for astronomers

It looked like a scene from a sci-fi blockbuster: an astronomer in the Netherlands captured footage of a train of brightly-lit SpaceX satellites ascending through the night sky this weekend, stunning space enthusiasts across the globe.

But the sight has also provoked an outcry among astronomers who say the constellation, which so far consists of 60 broadband-beaming satellites but could one day grow to as many as 12,000, may threaten our view of the cosmos and deal a blow to scientific discovery.

The launch was tracked around the world and it soon became clear that the satellites were visible to the naked eye: a new headache for researchers who already have to find workarounds to deal with objects cluttering their images of deep space.

"People were making extrapolations that if many of the satellites in these new mega-constellations had that kind of steady brightness, then in 20 years or less, for a good part the night anywhere in the world, the human eye would see more satellites than stars," Bill Keel, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, told AFP.

Noting that there are currently about 2,100 satellites aloft, the article continues:

If another 12,000 are added by SpaceX alone, "it will be hundreds above the horizon at any given time," Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told AFP, adding that the problem would be exacerbated at certain times of the year and certain points in the night.

"So, it'll certainly be dramatic in the night sky if you're far away from the city and you have a nice, dark area; and it'll definitely cause problems for some kinds of professional astronomical observation."

[...] If optical astronomers are concerned, then their radio astronomy colleagues, who rely on the electromagnetic waves emitted by celestial objects to examine phenomena such as the first image of the black hole discovered last month, are "in near despair," he added.

One of the most spectacular sights of my life was being out in the wilderness, far from local light pollution, and seeing the Milky Way shining so brightly that I could not make out any constellations for all the other stars that were now visible. I cannot imagine how concerned astronomers must be to face the prospect of taking long-duration "images' of faint astronomical bodies... and having a satellite fly past at a much brighter magnitude. What, if anything, can be done?


Original Submission

Related Stories

Three of SpaceX's Starlink Satellites have Failed 27 comments

SpaceX's Starlink program launched an initial sixty satellites on May 23. At least three of these "are no longer in service" and "will passively deorbit." according to a spokesperson for the company.

In other words, the three spacecraft failed and will fall back to Earth, likely within a year because of their relatively low orbit of 273 miles (440 kilometers) above the planet's surface.

SpaceX seems relatively unfazed by the failures, though, since the company never expected all of them to function perfectly given the mission's experimental nature.

SpaceX intentionally implemented the satellites with minor variations.

On a brighter note, 45 of the satellites, which are equipped with small ion engines for maneuvering, have already reached their intended orbits. Five are moving towards their orbits, and five are pending evaluation before maneuvering. Another "[t]wo satellites are being intentionally deorbited to simulate an end of life disposal."

[N]ow that the majority of the satellites have reached their operational altitude, SpaceX will begin using the constellation to start transmitting broadband signals, testing the latency and capacity by streaming videos and playing some high bandwidth video games using gateways throughout North America.

The Starlink program was stung by early comments that the program was negatively affecting astronomy and SpaceX

added that it "continues to monitor the visibility of the satellites as they approach their final orbit" and that they will be measured for their visibility from the ground once there. Those comments are likely meant to address concerns lodged by astronomers about the reflectivity of Starlink spacecraft

The satellites are designed to completely disintegrate upon entering Earth's atmosphere, and the failures may help drive future iterations.

Previous Coverage
Most of SpaceX's Starlink Internet Satellites are Already on Track
SpaceX Satellites Pose New Headache for Astronomers
Third Time's the Charm! SpaceX Launch Good; Starlink Satellite Deployment Coming Up [Updated]
SpaceX to Launch 60 Starlink Satellites: Postponed 1 Day Due to Upper Altitude Winds [UPDATE 2]
SpaceX to Launch 60 Starlink Satellites at Once, and More
SpaceX's First Dedicated Starlink Launch Set for May; Amazon Hired SpaceX Execs for Project Kuiper


Original Submission

SpaceX Requests Permission to Launch an Additional 30,000 Starlink Satellites, to a Total of 42,000+ 12 comments

SpaceX submits paperwork for 30,000 more Starlink satellites

SpaceX has asked the International Telecommunication Union to arrange spectrum for 30,000 additional Starlink satellites. SpaceX, which is already planning the world's largest low-Earth-orbit broadband constellation by far, filed paperwork in recent weeks for up to 30,000 additional Starlink satellites on top of the 12,000 already approved by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The FCC, on SpaceX's behalf, submitted 20 filings to the ITU for 1,500 satellites apiece in various low Earth orbits, an ITU official confirmed Oct. 15 to SpaceNews.

[...] In its filings, SpaceX said the additional 30,000 satellites would operate in low Earth orbit at altitudes ranging from 328 kilometers to 580 kilometers.

[...] It is not guaranteed that, by submitting numerous filings, SpaceX will build and launch 30,000 more satellites. Tim Farrar, a telecom analyst critical of SpaceX, tweeted that he was doubtful the ITU will be able to review such big filings in a timely manner. He sees the 20 separate filings as a SpaceX effort to "drown the ITU in studies" while proceeding with its constellation.

Nothing a Starship can't launch.

Starlink.

More coverage:


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:29AM (6 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:29AM (#849159)

    Could well placed vantablack paint help with the brightness?

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:33AM (2 children)

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:33AM (#849161) Journal

      Probably. Musk said they are looking at reducing the albedo of the satellites. They are still prototypes (missing sat-to-sat communications) and there's plenty of time to make changes before a significant portion of them go up.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:35AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:35AM (#849163)

        and there's plenty of time

        In the grand scheme of things, at Universe time scales, of course!

      • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:39AM

        by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:39AM (#849165) Homepage Journal

        Well, I hope they reduce the sat's libido!! Oh, wait . . .

        --
        The only reason for not believing in it (Marxism) is that it doesn't work. - Thomas Sowell
    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:59AM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:59AM (#849173)

      No -

      Black may make them less visible, but does nothing to make them also transparent.

      Now broadcasting electronic noise too boot. Yes, other satellite broad cast noise too, but at very great distance, so out of most viewing - basically a fixed in the sky. Or not that many near.. GPS anyone.

      Even small, they are BIG to stars behind them and flying as train... think of looking at the sky while laying under a rail track and with a train schedule to keep. They do not care about your sighting. Play a radio station on the train, the steel blocking the sky and raido blasting your attentae.

      Best to call China and ask them to use their laser satellite and burn them up.

      Musk is doing to bring the ping time down, if some one wanted to DOOM over them. Stupid man.
         

      • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:49AM (1 child)

        by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:49AM (#849216) Journal

        I'm assuming that English is not your first language, because this is quite difficult to read. However, I think that I understand the point(s) that you are trying to make with the exception of the very last line:

        Musk is doing to bring the ping time down, if some one wanted to DOOM over them. Stupid man.

        I've got to admit you lost me on that one... Try to re-read your comments before you press the 'Submit' button please because you might have something important to say.

        --
        It's always my fault...
        • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:30PM

          by Freeman (732) on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:30PM (#849353) Journal

          Seemed perfectly legible in internet speak to me.

          First rule of Internet Speak, Ignore All Knowledge Up to This Point.
          2Rool UrOld

          --
          Forced Microsoft Account for Windows Login → Switch to Linux.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:33AM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:33AM (#849162)

    Science is not excuse to deny profit, bitches!
    MAGA!!11one!!

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:45AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:45AM (#849168) Journal

      Speaking of, it's almost time to sign up:

      SpaceX wants to offer Starlink internet to consumers after just six launches [teslarati.com]

      Starlink.com reiterated CEO Elon Musk’s estimate that SpaceX will conduct 2-6 dedicated Starlink launches – carrying at least 60 satellites each – in 2019 alone. In other words, a best-case satellite deployment scenario could mean that SpaceX will be able to start offering Starlink service to consumers “in the Northern U.S. and Canadian latitudes” as early as this year, while commercial offerings would thus be all but guaranteed in 2020. A step further, SpaceX believes it will be able to offer coverage of the entirety of the populated world after as few as 24 launches (~1500 Starlink satellites).

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
  • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:42AM (11 children)

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:42AM (#849167) Journal

    SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says Starlink will strive to protect and support science [teslarati.com]

    The sats should become dimmer as their orbits are raised. Newer sats could be given a dark coating. This could also help with ensuring that they are completely burnt up in the atmosphere when it's time to decommission them.

    Ground-based cameras and telescopes can use different exposure times / capture methods to get the data they need. They already have to deal with existing satellites as well as asteroids and cosmic rays. The future is in space telescopes anyway which should have less of an issue with all this stuff, especially if they are located beyond Earth orbit.

    SpaceX isn't the only company that will be sending up hundreds or thousands of Internet satellites. OneWeb, Amazon, and others are sending up thousands. I imagine China and Russia will have their own versions eventually. Expect 100,000 to 1 million satellites in Earth orbit in the long run.

    --
    [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
    • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:59AM (10 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @02:59AM (#849172)

      Yeah, right, nothing can or will go wrong.
      Murphy was a fool, don't listen to him

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @03:04AM (9 children)

        by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @03:04AM (#849175) Journal

        Amateur Astronomers Blown Out By Bigshot Billionaire - And they can't do shit about it

        --
        [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:02AM (8 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:02AM (#849194)

          Amateur astronomers usually don't have radio telescopes. Large governments do.

          • (Score: 3, Insightful) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:06AM (3 children)

            by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @05:06AM (#849195) Journal

            Speaking of radio and large governments, the U.S.A.'s FCC has authorized the SpaceX and OneWeb constellations. Case closed.

            --
            [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
            • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @10:12AM (2 children)

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @10:12AM (#849235)

              Speaking of radio and large governments, the U.S.A.'s FCC has authorized the SpaceX and OneWeb constellations. Case closed.

              Ah, I see, so the rest of the planet doesn't get to have a say about this LEO pollution for the aggrandisation of the twonk behind these things....

              I'd see the point if the sattelites were the *only* solution to the percieved problem they're there to 'fix', they aren't, this is all about an idiot with lots of money (ergo power) and the toys that the money and power provide him with to play with as he pleases, he thinks he's some sort of real life Jeff Tracey..

              It's all about him, and more money/power for him, If his schemes benefit anyone else, it's peripherally, and it's more by accident than design..

               

              • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday May 30 2019, @10:42AM

                by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @10:42AM (#849242) Journal

                Starlink 11,927 satellites
                OneWeb 650 to 2,622
                Amazon 3,236
                Telesat 300
                Boeing, Samsung, Facebook = ?

                The satellites are designed to deorbit and burn up after about 7 years. If the world finds this utterly objectionable, it can be stopped. But more likely, there will also be a Chinese, Russian, Indian, European, etc. constellation.

                Astronomy will survive. There is no evidence that having even a million satellites in LEO is going to make ground based astronomy impossible.

                --
                [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
              • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @11:53AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @11:53AM (#849254)

                Ah, I see, so the rest of the planet doesn't get to have a say about this LEO pollution for the aggrandisation of the twonk behind these things....

                Why do you hate capitalism? What are you, a terrorist?

          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by fido_dogstoyevsky on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:46AM

            by fido_dogstoyevsky (131) <{axehandle} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:46AM (#849215)

            Amateur astronomers usually don't have radio telescopes...

            There's one who does in my neighbourhood (not me).

            --
            It's NOT a conspiracy... it's a plot.
          • (Score: 3, Interesting) by janrinok on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:53AM

            by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:53AM (#849217) Journal

            Try Googling for images of 'amateur radio telescopes' to discover just how wrong you are.

            --
            It's always my fault...
          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @09:31AM (1 child)

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @09:31AM (#849231)

            The problem here is only with visual light, not radio telescopes.

            Seeing an occasional satellite is interesting, and the ISS is bright enough to see even under suburban lighting conditions. But you wouldn't want the whole sky to be full of satellites.

            At least everyone more or less agrees that too many visible satellites are a bad thing.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @12:09PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @12:09PM (#849258)

              From TFS: If optical astronomers are concerned, then their radio astronomy colleagues, who rely on the electromagnetic waves emitted by celestial objects to examine phenomena such as the first image of the black hole discovered last month, are "in near despair," he added.

  • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @03:12PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 30 2019, @03:12PM (#849305)

    Get your sorry ass (equipment) on higher orbit than them, duh.

  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Tara Li on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:19PM (1 child)

    by Tara Li (6248) on Thursday May 30 2019, @07:19PM (#849398)

    Astronomers gave up helping the space colonization groups push for a better space program a long time ago, instead pushing forward on ground-based equipment and using adaptive optics with "guide star" lasers. If they'd helped push, maybe we could have had a few larger stations in orbit where equipment could be upgraded. But no, robot probes on other planets were good enough for them.

    F' em - for a group so used to using meters-wide devices to see millions of light-years into the sky, astronomers were remarkably short sighted.

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday May 31 2019, @03:15AM

      by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Friday May 31 2019, @03:15AM (#849607) Journal

      The future of astronomy is going to be driven by space telescopes.

      There are physical limits to how big you can build a ground-based optical telescope. Maybe you can get to a 100 meter aperture. But in orbit, you don't have to deal with wind or the gravitational stress (in free fall). You can launch many modular mirror components and connect them together. Why not have a 1km aperture [nasa.gov]? You can even make it out of a bubble [nextbigfuture.com].

      This is a good example [soylentnews.org] of what amateur astronomers should be doing. Just set up computerized telescopes and cameras all over the world to capture occultations, meteors, etc.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
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