On 23rd of May, SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 satellites of its Starlink internet constellation. This large constellation of artificial satellites orbiting in low-Earth orbit (LEO), will form the backbone of a global broadband internet network. And the company is planning to launch 12000 more such satellites.
And after some days, on May 25, after the 60 satellites successfully launched to the orbit, Dutch satellite tracker Marco Langbroek captured their (satellites’) route and posted a strange video. It showed the satellites on the train as they passed through the night sky (you can see the video given below), although they will separate over time.
All thanks to the large solar arrays (each satellite contains a single solar array) that are reflecting sunlight back to Earth, as a result, they can sometimes be seen from Earth. They were far brighter than expected.
A video of the SpaceX’s Starlink satellites in the night sky looked spectacular, but there are fears their visibility could interfere with science. Many astronomers raised fears that they will interfere with visual observations and even radio astronomy. One, Alex Parker, suggested that there could eventually be more Starlink satellites visible to the naked eye than stars.
So the good news: it seems that once the Starlink sats point their solar panels at the Sun properly they are significantly fainter (more like mag 5 than mag 2). That is still brighter than we had expected and still a problem, but somewhat less of a sky-is-on-fire problem.
— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) May 26, 2019
Moreover, Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and some others observed that the internet satellites are bright enough to cause a problem for astronomy. Currently, only 60 satellites are moving into their orbit, but eventually, that number will reach 12,000- this will change the view of the night sky.
What does Musk say on this?
Elon Musk, the SpaceX CEO, was initially defensive about his Starline satellite system. He noted the constellation would not affect observations at all, and also added how “potentially helping billions of economically disadvantaged people is the greater good.” But he later tweeted that he had asked the Starlink team to look at ways of reducing the reflectivity of the satellites- and even suggested that he might be interested in putting a telescope into orbit. “We care a great deal about science,” Musk tweeted.
Well, these moves will not completely clear the minds of the sky observers, but the company is at least aware of its potential impact in an era where a crowded orbit and space debris are very real issues.