SpaceX has launched 60 smallsats, kicking off its Starlink program. It’s part of a 12,000 smallsat strong constellation which will provide cheap internet globally. It was a successful launch. However, astronomers are worried that these satellites will eventually be more than stars in Earth’s night sky, preventing a better look at the Universe. A resolution was adopted at the 234th ASA meeting attended by scientists and astronomers worldwide. It stated that it was worried about constellation deployments at the planet’s orbit. Since more satellites will be joining them, there are tons of potential problems to be expected.
Observations of far-off objects and radio observations could be disrupted due to interference with satellite functions. However, satellites are useful for enhancing observations. Companies like SpaceX can work with the ASA to mitigate such effects. IAU and British RAU have also issued similar statements. Musk promises that satellites won’t be visible after settling into their orbits. However, astronomers are yet to be convinced. While it is true that satellites can be quite bright after launch, the sheer quantity of satellites launched is adding concern for astronomers.
Jeff Hall of AAS stated that the number was concerning. If they happen to be detectable and bright, that would be a problem. Only 30 GPS satellites were in orbit at the moment, which were mostly invisible and with orbits located quite far away. Not knowing Starlink satellite sizes was another concern. Hall stated that it could be invisible to the naked eye. However, current telescope tech is quite sensitive.
Astronomy groups currently are in talks with satellite companies. SpaceX might share data about orbits, enabling astronomers to gauge the impact of the launch on their observations. After that, discussions about solutions could be possible, as satellite companies and scientists team up to mitigate unfavorable impacts. Hall stated that cooperation was the key.