2020 is going to be an exciting year for space missions. The space agencies of countries like the United States, Russia or China have the point of view in space exploration, but there is another kind of mission that catches us closer: to deploy a “shield” of satellites around the Earth to carry the Internet every corner. It’s Elon Musk’s dream … and something that doesn’t excite astronomers.
Elon Musk has a lot of companies under his arms, but one of the most joyful is giving the tycoon is SpaceX. This is Musk’s space company that has deals with NASA to bring astronauts to the International Space Station, which has Mars in the spotlight and wants to take the Internet to all points of the planet with the Starlink project.
In May of last year, the first 60 Starlink satellites were launched.
The objective? Provide a planetary Internet service and Musk has already tweeted (one of his favorite things) using the Starlink network. Thousands of satellites will be needed to accomplish the feat, and astronomers have already begun to have problems with the few hundred that are in orbit.
As we say, Musk has planned several Starlink satellite avalanches, but the 300 that are currently in space have already caused false positives and that night observation is complicated.
A few months ago, the scientific community complained about 19 of the Starlink satellites, which ruined an observation night, but the goal is that, in the short term, there are 42,000 of these elements in orbit.
From a few months ago (June 2019, to be exact), the International Astronomical Union began monitoring satellites and studying what can happen in the short term. One of the experiments consisted of simulating a sky with “only” 25,000 satellites, and the results are not encouraging according to the data of European and North American observatories.
According to the report, recently published, the vast majority will not be seen with the naked eye and, at given times, there would be horizons with about 1,500 satellites. Almost all would be on the horizon line, but between 250 and 300 satellites would have an elevation of 30º.
There the problems begin since the experts affirm that this angle is the one that is used for the majority of the astronomical observations.
For now, the images of Starlink that we have seen are those curious chains of “pearls” because the satellites are aligned, but this is also something important for the observation of the universe. And, according to the IAU, the problem is not only in seeing the satellites with the telescopes but in the trail they leave, capable of confusing the observation tools.
These trails can be “avoided” by reprogramming the telescopes and observation tools so that they are automatically overlooked and not taken into consideration, but it is an expense of time and resources that should not be faced if the satellites were not in between.
It must be said that the problem is not that there will be 42,000 satellites in orbit by SpaceX, but that other company also want their piece of cake and will launch their satellites.
Starlink satellites are moving forward to create different camouflage modes so as not to “disturb” during the day, but no matter how much they camouflage, they will be perfectly visible at night with the right tools, and it is estimated that they will pollinate 30% of the 30-second images of exposure taken during twilight, the crucial period for planetary observation.
On the part of the company, as we read in GeekWire, they are happy with the current production of Starlink, since they have managed to overcome the main obstacles that are not taken into account in the design chain and are ready to go “releasing” more little satellites little by little.