Astronomers are worried that a small satellite heat launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company last week will destroy observations of the deep space of distant stars and galaxies. And they let people know about it.
On November 11, SpaceX launched 60 low-Earth "Starlink" satellites, bringing its total constellation size to 122 – already one of the largest satellite networks in space. The company plans to eventually launch 12,000 of the small broadband satellites in the mid-2020s to deliver global high-speed Internet from space. The project is estimated to cost $ 10 billion.
And astronomers are worried that the thousands of shiny objects will clutter their observations of the sky, based on the early returns of the latest launch, which set a train of satellites on course for final orbits 340 miles high with a 53 degree slope with the equator.
"Satellite constellations can pose a significant or debilitating threat to important existing and future astronomical infrastructures," the International Astronomical Union said in a statement in May last year. The IAU said that reflected sunlight from the satellites will damage the sensitive optics of large observatory telescopes and also disrupt new radio astronomy facilities.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory that month said it had "fruitful" discussions with SpaceX about minimizing interference in observations from Starlink satellites.
Musk acknowledged the concern in a tweet shortly afterwards, saying he asked engineers to reduce the reflectivity of the satellites to reduce their impact on astronomy.
More recently, the American Astronomical Society expressed concern over the large number of planned satellites that overwhelm the night sky and lead to space collisions and fill valuable orbits with dangerous debris. SpaceX competitor OneWeb plans its own giant constellation of broadband satellites from 2020.
Astronomers have little legal use of the light pollution from the satellites, space writer Jeff Foust of SpaceNews has noted. Spacecraft are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration and the satellites are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Two more launches of Starlink satellites are planned for the rest of 2019.