SpaceX, the aerospace manufacturer, and space transportation services company, is testing strategy to reduce the light reflecting off them that might degrade astronomical images. The aerospace company has sent 60 of its Starlink broadband Internet satellites into orbit on 6 January. Among these 60 satellites is a DarkSat prototype.
The prototype is partially painted black in hopes of reducing reflection from fleets of broadband Internet satellites. Scientists fear that the brightness of satellites’ megaconstellation could interfere with astronomical observations. Bright streaks caused by light reflecting off them could degrade solar images.
Think about how many aerospace companies are planning to send their satellites into space, just SpaceX, of Hawthorne, California, aims to launch 24 batches of Starlinks this year. If this keeps going on, by the mid-2020s, thousands to tens of thousands of new satellites could be soaring overhead.
“I was complaining to my wife that I can’t sleep very well these days because of this,” says Tony Tyson, a physicist at the University of California, Davis, and chief scientist of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, a major US telescope under construction in Chile.
If successful, SpaceX DarkSat might reduce the reflection caused by the Starlink Megaconstellation
On January 8th, at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Honolulu, Hawaii, astronomers have raised this potential issue regarding the growing number of satellites orbiting Earth and their impact on various telescopes.
“2020 is the window to figure out what makes a difference in reducing the impact,” says Jeffrey Hall, director of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and chair of the society’s committee on light pollution.
The brightness of the Starlinks came as a surprise, says Patrick Seitzer, an astronomer at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “The new mega-constellations coming online have the potential to be brighter than 99% of everything else in Earth orbit, and that’s where the concern comes from,” he says.
However, “SpaceX is absolutely committed to finding a way forward, so our Starlink project doesn’t impede the value of the research you all are undertaking,” Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s vice-president for satellite government affairs.