SpaceX launch — highlights the threat of “megaconstellations that might disrupt astronomical observations”

In the late spring of 2019, these GEITP pages mentioned the SpaceX program — which turned out to be very helpful information: some of our GEITP readers saw this string of lights rapidly moving across the sky and, because they had been informed by GEITP, they felt assured it was not an alien invasion from outer space, 😉. This article [see attached 2-page editorial] provides the latest news from SpaceX, the space-flight company. On 11 November, SpaceX launched 60 more communications satellites into orbit — called “Starlinks” — which is part of their plan to create a web of spacecraft.

However, many astronomers worry that such “megaconstellations” — which are also planned by other companies talking about launching tens of thousands of satellites during the coming years — might interfere with our crucial observations of the Universe from Earth locations. Researchers also fear that the satellites could disrupt radio-frequencies used for astronomical observations, create bright streaks in the sky, and increase congestion in orbit, raising the risk of collisions. By the end of 2020, there could be hundreds of Starlinks in orbit (there are now 120 in a string), and SpaceX envisions thousands in the years to come.

Other companies (e.g. Amazon, headquartered in Seattle, WA; and OneWeb based in London) are planning launches which, altogether, could more than double the number of existing satellites. In addition to improving worldwide Internet access, other potential applications include improving satellite Internet for military aircraft.

Although it remains to be seen how many of these planned megaconstellations will actually be launched, several researchers have begun to analyze how the satellite networks could affect astronomy. The situation might not seem as bad as initially feared, but “the jury is still out.” This megaconstellation program might dramatically shift how some astronomers peform their tasks. Please read the article [attached] for further details. 😊


Nature 14 Nov 2019; 575: 268-269

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