Starlink satellites are one of the biggest achievements in human history. The company is owned by SpaceX, an American space company that recently sent American astronauts to the International Space Station. Both companies are found and owned by Elon Musk, who is also the founder of Tesla.
This was the first such launch from American soil since 2011 when the NASA space shuttle program was shut down. Also, this was the first time that the astronauts were sent to space by a commercial space rocket.
Related article:Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites are polluting the night sky. He is planning to launch 42 000 satellites.
But now back to the Starlink satellites. As of today, there are 540 satellites orbiting the Earth (data as of 14th of June 2020). If everything goes as planned, the Starlink constellation will be finished in 2027 having almost 12 000 satellites out there. Plus, Elon Musk already filled the paperwork for another 30 000 satellites that he wants to send to space later on.
The goal of Starlink is to provide a high-speed internet connection to every place on Earth. Be it the middle of the Sahara desert, Brazil rain forest, or the peaks of Himalayas. Although, this is a very interesting solution that will help many people around the world it has its downsides.
The main reason why the Starlink satellites are so unpopular within the astronomy community is that the satellites are polluting the sky. They reflect a lot of sunlight back to Earth and make the astronomy observations or astrophotography very difficult.
Starlink satellites are polluting the night sky. But Elon Musk might have a solution to reduce their brightness.
According to many astronomers and astrophotographers, the satellites make the astronomy and the observation of the night sky almost impossible. Below are a few photos and videos that show Starlink satellites polluting the night sky and affecting the photos made by amateurs or professionals.
Wow!! I am in shock!! The huge amount of Starlink satellites crossed our skies tonight at @cerrotololo. Our DECam exposure was heavily affected by 19 of them! The train of Starlink satellites lasted for over 5 minutes!! Rather depressing… This is not cool! pic.twitter.com/gK0ekbpLJe— Clarae Martínez-Vázquez (@89Marvaz) November 18, 2019
Elon Musk has claimed many times that they are intensively working on the solution. The first one was to paint the satellites with a special color that reduces brightness, thus makes the satellites less visible from Earth. Such “DarkSat” satellites were already tested by the beginning of 2020. Even though the project seemed very promising, a lot of astronomers claim that it was not so effective and the Starlink satellites are still highly visible. The brightness was reduced but not sufficiently enough.
Again, Elon Musk also claimed that the satellites are mainly visible once they launched. They create a so-called “space train” consisting of 60 satellites that simply has to be seen somehow. After that, the satellites are spread on the orbit and it is not so easy to find them. Last but not least, the launch of SpaceX rockets and the Starlink satellites are scheduled upfront so the observations could be possible when the “launch window” is free.
As none of the previous solutions fixed the issue in 100% the team works with astronomy experts to figure out how to lower the reflectivity of the satellites even more.
The newest solution is to install special shades on the satellites. The highly reflective parts like antennas would be hidden behind the shades and the sunlight would be blocked. This would significantly reduce their brightness making them much darker than the original Starlink satellites.
If this works and every side is happy with the results all the upcoming satellites will be equipped with such shades.
To be very honest, it is visible that Elon Musk is being proactive on this. There will always be people saying that something does not work or this could be done differently. I guess, even Elon didn’t expect the astronomy community to be so harsh on him. And to be fair, he might even don’t know about the issue upfront.
What I would put on the positivity side is the proactive approach to find a solution that reduces the problem and satisfies all the sides. I wish him good luck and looking forward to seeing the final solution.
Last but not least, if you think he is completely wrong I would like to see other countries like China or Russia facing the same issue. Would they also be so proactive to fix it, or would they just say nothing is wrong? But that’s for another discussion.