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posted by hubie on Wednesday September 21, @08:35AM   Printer-friendly
from the buh-bye-night-sky dept.

The imminent launch of a BlueWalker satellite, with a giant phased array antenna, portends a brightening night sky:

The prototype of a new constellation of extremely bright Earth-orbiting satellites is due to launch in early- to mid-September. The AST SpaceMobile company plans to orbit more than 100 of these spacecraft by the end of 2024. Astronomers at the Vera Rubin Observatory and the International Astronomical Union's Centre for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS) are concerned because these new spacecraft will interfere with celestial observations, adding to the problems already caused by other constellations.

The first member of this new group, called BlueWalker 3, will feature a giant antenna array covering an area of 64 square meters (689 square feet). Observers on the ground will see bright sunlight reflected from this structure. After on-orbit tests of BlueWalker 3 are completed, the operational satellites, called BlueBirds, will be launched. BlueBirds may produce even more glaring light pollution since they are significantly larger. The commercial appeal of these satellites is that they will link directly to cell phones without the need of a cell tower. AST SpaceMobile has already secured a license from the Federal Communications Commission to test the prototype.

[...] Other bright satellites are waiting in the wings: 30,000 second-generation Starlink satellites are currently awaiting FCC approval. Like the BlueBirds, the new Starlinks may carry antennas for direct connection to cell phones; the antennas are slightly smaller at "only" 25 square meters, but the satellites would be far more numerous than the BlueBird constellation. That development would be very bad news for astronomy.

BlueWalker 3 is expected to be among the brightest objects in the night sky after the antenna unfolds. Amateur astronomers can help record this satellite's brightness, bringing awareness to bright satellites' effects on our night sky and on astronomy.

[...] Astrophotographers can also play an important role in the study of artificial satellites, by uploading celestial images impacted by satellite streaks to the TrailBlazer website. Meredith Rawls and Dino Bektešević (both at University of Washington) are developing this data archive as part of the IAU's response to the problems posed by spacecraft. Trailblazer stores the impacted images and records selected metadata, so users can search for satellite-streaked images by date, location, and other parameters such as sky position and telescope.

See also:
    AST SpaceMobile video describing the phased array satellite.
    NASA APOD showing satellite streaks over a two hour period.

Previously:
    SpaceX Has Had 'Promising Conversations' With Apple About iPhone Satellite Service
    AST SpaceMobile Gets US Approval to Test Satellite-based Cellular Broadband


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 21, @03:22PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 21, @03:22PM (#1272786)

    There are all sorts of clever approaches one could take, including what you mention, but none of them are trivial. Recognizing these streaks falls into the bucket for things that are easy for humans are hard for machines. The way you'd have to approach it is very situationally dependent. If you have long exposure frames and have long tracks, that is different than if you have lots of very short integration times with very short tracks, but once they are racked and stacked, make a long track. The more recent work that I've heard (and I don't actively follow this area), like a lot of things these days, waive the magic machine learning wand to say they do or will find and correct them this way.

    For your second paragraph, I wouldn't take that bet. Remember that this is astronomy we're talking about here, so don't assume anyone has sufficient budget to do much more than is necessary. Predicting where and when something will be in a future observation is also not easy. The positions and locations of satellites is not very well known with precision. You can download the ephemerides of them and figure out where they'll be and when, but the error bars on that are not small, and you can't extrapolate too far into the future for predictions because of all the external forces on the satellites, especially the lower orbital ones due to things like atmospheric drag and gravitational nonuniformities.