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Why SpaceX wants to put 25,000 satellites into orbit is bad news for astronomers

It is a truism that the commercialization of science is often detrimental. The Internet, once a commercial-free academic and intellectual space, has been turned into a digital billboard. Similarly, the commercialization of radio waves has made terrestrial radio astronomy more difficult due to interference from WLAN, AM / FM and TV signals. Now, as the capitalists prepare for the commercialization of space, astronomers are again worried that a SpaceX announcement could make ground-based observational astronomy much more difficult and force astronomers to bypass the zipping of satellites across the night sky. [19659002] The private company, founded by Elon Musk, launched Monday one of its reusable rockets from Cape Canaveral with 60 on-board satellites as part of the Starlink constellation, which will, among other things, provide satellite Internet worldwide. The launch was the second payload of a satellite constellation that will ultimately consist of tens of thousands of orbiting stations if everything goes as planned. Despite concealing the mission with a humanitarian target, launching this week is causing many scientists in space to worry about the footprint of as many satellites as reflected sunlight.

"I'm worried [that]] The launch of the SpaceX satellite marks the beginning of a new era," said Avi Loeb, chairman of the Harvard Astronomy Department, Salon by email.

In October, Musk announced that its company is requesting approval from the Federal Communications Commission In addition to the 12,000 already approved, 30,000 satellites are expected to be operated. By January 2019, there were approximately 5,000 satellites in space, of which 1,950 are still functioning. The Musk satellites would bring the number of satellites on Earth to a state astronomers have never studied.

"They are already calling for 30,000 new satellites that go beyond the 12,000, and the number will continue to increase without space laws to moderate the number of satellites growth," added Loeb. "It is imperative to find a technological solution that minimizes the space requirements of these satellites on telescope images (otherwise we must always avoid their predictable locations or move optical observatories to the moon)."

Satellites, however, not The brightness of the SpaceX-launched satellites is a new problem for astronomers.

"The problem is particularly acute for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which repeatedly measures much of the sky," Loeb explains. "There is no doubt that this will be addressed in the 2020 Decadal Survey of Astronomy, which summarizes the astronomy community's priorities for the next decade."

The LSST will lean on a large camera to survey the entire sky At least three nights to study dark energy, dark matter and asteroids. The project is scheduled to start in 2022. Since it will cover such a wide field, satellites such as the Starlink satellites could have a significant impact on it. LSST researchers are currently analyzing how 50,000 new satellites could affect LSST observations, according to SpaceX. According to Nature, early results indicate that the telescope could cause significant time losses during observation.

The first Starlinks launched into space in May have already caused some problems. In September, the European Space Agency (ESA) had to clear its wind map satellite Aeolus to avoid a collision.

"We see him as part of our changing environment," says Stijn Lemmens. a space junk analyst at ESA, Forbes said at the time. "In that sense, we want to raise awareness that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that this type of operation will go smoothly in the future."

After the first launch, the American The Astronomical Society published a statement on their concerns that went beyond potential collisions and the impairment of observation times.

"The number of such satellites is expected to grow to tens of thousands over the next few years, creating the potential for significant adverse effects on ground-based and spaceborne astronomy," the statement said. "These effects could include a significant disruption of optical and near-infrared observation by direct detection of satellites in the reflected and emitted light. Contamination of radio astronomical observations by electromagnetic radiation in satellite communication bands; and collision with space-based observatories. "

Indeed, those who study space fear that these satellites are only the beginning of a greater commercialization of space.

"These mega-constellations are just beginning," said Edward Lu, co-founder of the b612 and former NASA astronaut, who also works for Leo Labs' VP of Strategic Projects, Salon said in an email. "The LEO satellite traffic problem will only increase. Along with the growth of communications satellites, such as those launched by SpaceX, humanity is starting much more constellations together.

He added, "You will be able to track things like methane gas, illegal fishing in the oceans, people's migration through war and hunger, water levels, fires and fires and many other things we're about to do first introduce, develop and use.

Loeb said the launch of Salon Monday is yet another reminder of a growing conflict between business and science interest.

"There is a precedent for this situation, namely radio band transmitters used for communication and self-driving cars that interfere with radio telescopes," said Loeb. "As a result, there are nationwide regulations for the frequency bands that can be used for commercial purposes."

"One can imagine analogous regulations for the number [of] or the luminosity of satellites," he said.

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