SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said his company is ‘fixing’ the brightness of his ultra-bright constellation of satellites, which are disrupting the night sky for astronomers.
Stargazers have been puzzled by the unusual brightness of Musk’s satellite constellation, called Starlink, which aims to provide satellite internet access.
The brightness of the constellation is due to the angle of the solar panels as the satellites rise to orbit altitude, Musk explained.
This results in more sunlight than usual being reflected, making the satellites look similar to stars.
SpaceX has so far launched 422 Starlink satellites into orbit, including 60 launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida on Wednesday.
Responding to a Twitter user, Musk said his company is now adjusting the angle of the solar panels on the more than 400 satellites currently in operation.
The US satellite SpaceX Starlink 5 is seen in the night passing in the sky above Svendborg on South Funen, Denmark
Musk said SpaceX is fixing the orbital raise and parking manoeuvres of the more than 400 satellites. It will also add sunshades to all satellites starting with launch 9 next month
‘Is there a reason they’ve been brighter and more noticeable lately? I feel like tons of people are spotting them all of a sudden and they went fairly unnoticed before,’ tweeted @Erdayastronaut to the tech entrepreneur and SpaceX founder.
‘Solar panel angle during orbit raise / park,’ Musk replied. ‘We’re fixing it now.’
The satellites are orbiting at a relatively close 340 miles away from Earth, which helps to make them even more visible with the naked eye.
Starlink CEO and billionaire Elon Musk has said there is unmet demand for low-cost global broadband capabilities, which his constellation of satellites hopes to provide
The string of lights from the satellites seen travelling through the sky across western Europe
All satellites aboard Starlink’s next launch (launch 9) and onwards, will also have ‘sunshades’, Musk also tweeted in response to another user.
‘We are taking some key steps to reduce satellite brightness btw,’ Musk said.
‘Should be much less noticeable during orbit raise by changing solar panel angle & all sats get sunshades starting with launch 9.’
Launch 9 will take place in early to mid-May, following on from Wednesday’s launch 8, which took place aboard a Falcon 9 at 3:30pm ET (8:30pm BST).
Picture of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites passing over Essex last night by amateur photographer James Newman. Britons have been left amazed and confused by Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites
The Falcon 9 took off at 3:30pm ET carrying a new batch of 60 Starlink satellites, marking its 84th time flying into orbit – more than any other currently operational US rocket
The continued launches shows Musk is not letting the pandemic hamper his company’s plans of creating an internet broadband constellation in low orbit.
At least 400 satellites are needed for SpaceX to start introducing minimal internet coverage, Musk has said, and at least 800 are necessary for moderate coverage.
The firm aims to have more than 1,000 satellites in orbit by the end of the year and has also been approved by the FCC to launch over 12,000 in total.
However, European Southern Observatory (ESO) found that satellite mega-constellations such as Starlink will ‘severely’ affect between 30 and 50 percent of observations taken by the Rubin Observatory under construction in Chile.
A computer-generated image from several long-exposure images shows Starlink satellites in the sky above the concrete base of a former heating plant in Hungary
Single images, taken at various exposures (20 seconds to 8 seconds) showing the swarm of satellites passing across the sky, taken by Devon-based photographer John Baker from his garden during lockdown
‘Mitigation techniques that could be applied on ESO telescopes would not work for this observatory although other strategies are being actively explored,’ it said.
Sky observers and experts have also voiced their concern about the disruption to the skies by the Starlink constellation – the light from which out-glares that of stars, making them difficult to see.
‘Starlink is a crime against humanity; it robs us of the skies of our ancestors to every corner of the Earth’ said Travis Longcore, a professor at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
Physics teacher @edmunds_dr tweeted a European Space Agency illustration of all the satellites and space debris surrounding Earth
Twitter user and physics teacher @edmunds_dr, who posted a European Space Agency animation of satellites and their debris surrounding the Earth, said: ‘#StarLink is cool & all but I’m worried at the about of stuff we’re putting up into space. Space debris is a *real* problem.’
University of Alabama astronomer Bill Keel, meanwhile, has previously said that ‘in 20 years or less, for a good part the night anywhere in the world, the human eye would see more satellites than stars’.
On the other hand, some people have highlighted the importance of SpaceX’s network to global internet connectivity when fully operational.
‘Starlink has huge potential to change the world & bring many opportunities to those who are currently economically disadvantaged due to unreliable or non-existent connectivity,’ tweeted @flcnhvy.
SPACEX LAUNCHES ITS EIGHTH BATCH OF STARLINK SATELLITES
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched the eighth batch of its ‘Starlink’ space internet satellites on April 22, 2020 – taking the total in orbit to 422.
They form a constellation of thousands of satellites, designed to provide low-cost broadband internet service from low Earth orbit.
The constellation, informally known as Starlink, and under development at SpaceX’s facilities in Redmond, Washington.
Its goal is to beam superfast internet into your home from space.
While satellite internet has been around for a while, it has suffered from high latency and unreliable connections.
Starlink is different. SpaceX says putting a ‘constellation’ of satellites in low earth orbit would provide high-speed, cable-like internet all over the world.
The billionaire’s company wants to create the global system to help it generate more cash.
Musk has previously said the venture could give three billion people who currently do not have access to the internet a cheap way of getting online.
It could also help fund a future city on Mars.
Helping humanity reach the red planet is one of Musk’s long-stated aims and was what inspired him to start SpaceX.
The company recently filed plans with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch 4,425 satellites into orbit above the Earth – three times as many that are currently in operation.
‘Once fully deployed, the SpaceX system will pass over virtually all parts of the Earth’s surface and therefore, in principle, have the ability to provide ubiquitous global service,’ the firm said.
‘Every point on the Earth’s surface will see, at all times, a SpaceX satellite.’
The network will provide internet access to the US and the rest of the world, it added.
It is expected to take $9.8 billion (£7.1bn) of investment, although satellite internet has proved an expensive market in the past and analysts expect the final bill will be higher.
Musk compared the project to ‘rebuilding the internet in space’, as it would reduce reliance on the existing network of undersea fibre-optic cables which criss-cross the planet.
In the US, the FCC welcomed the scheme as a way to provide internet connections to more people.