What is SpaceX Starlink?

Updated: May 16

Starlink is a satellite-delivered super-fast internet service. Satellite broadband internet had previously been impossible due to communication satellites being too far away to generate anything more than a sluggish connection. However, using satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), SpaceX Starlink's service might provide a fast enough connection, potentially a gigabit per second, to appeal to consumers in rural areas and other areas where broadband internet has hitherto been unaffordable or inaccessible. That isn't going to persuade astrophotographers, who are seeing Starlink damage their pastime, as seen by this shot.

How many SpaceX Starlink satellites are there now?


Over 500 Starlink satellites are presently in orbit. SpaceX, on the other hand, wants to launch 12,000 satellites by the mid-2020s, with 8,000 in 500km orbit and 4,000 in 1,200km orbit. SpaceX might have as many as 42,000 broadband internet satellites in space in the future. However, this is only one firm. Others are also developing mega-constellations; astronomers may face a rising and long-term challenge as a result of this. Though the satellites are best visible at the beginning and conclusion of the night, they remain visible all night.


What impact may SpaceX Starlink satellites have on science and astronomy?

Although the brightness of Starlink satellites is now influencing solely astrophotographers' photographs, professional astronomers are concerned that it is hurting vital observations. The most serious risk is for wide-field sky surveys used to locate oncoming meteors and comets, among other things. The brightness of SpaceX's Starlink constellation, for example, is anticipated to be especially detrimental to the $466 million Vera Rubin Observatory in Chile, which will have its "first light" in 2022. In just three nights, it will survey the whole visible sky, thereby creating a moving image of our Universe. The brightness of Starlink satellites may have an impact on much of its data.


What steps is SpaceX doing to address this issue?


Is SpaceX capable of resolving the issue? All 57 of the newest Starlink satellites, which launched earlier this month, are VisorSats, which are equipped with shields to prevent sunlight from reaching the spacecraft's brightest components. Amateur and professional astronomers are outraged, but SpaceX is clearly concerned and working to resolve the matter. Is it possible to find a solution, or will the situation worsen? Is it worth it to pay a higher premium for better connectivity?

In any case, when it comes to mega-constellations, the odd comet photobombing may turn out to be the least of astronomy's concerns.

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