Musk has always turned up someone quite concerned about his legacy, someone from whom, for better or for worse, great things could be expected. In that we are. The launch of the first SpaceX Starlink satellites has been a very important technological step, but also has sparked a controversy that has been on the table for a long time.
Thanks to Starlink we can already say it without fear of being wrong: In the coming years, mega-costellations of satellites will change the night sky. They will mess it up, if we want to be more precise. But the controversy goes beyond filling the firmament with “new stars” and poses a key question for the future: whose space is it?
Dirtying the sky
What happened? That Marco Langbroek, an amateur Dutch astronomer, shared the video on these lines. It shows the spectacular of the Starlink network seen on a quiet night in the Netherlands. But the initial excitement was followed by worries. “I saw that train and it was certainly very spectacular,” Cees Bassa, an astronomer at the Netherlands Institute of Radio Astronomy, told The Guardian. “With these videos it is concluded that if several thousand of these are released , it will change the aspect of the night sky ”.
A sky full of new stars Bassa is precisely one of the few people who have studied the impact of these mega-constellations of satellites. And, although Musk has insisted that the satellites will be in the dark at night, the data does not allow us to be optimistic. According to Bassa’s calculations, once the first 1,584 satellites are in space, there will be at least 15 satellites always visible during the three or four hours after dark and before dawn.
The explanation is simple: being higher than the surface of the earth, the sun will continue to reflect on them during that time. That means that in summer there will be nights in which satellites will be seen at all times. When we have those 12,000 satellites, the figure will rise to between 70 and 100 satellites per night.
Why is the problem happening now? Don’t we already have the sky full of satellites and space junk? True, but there are key differences. Right now there are only about five thousand satellites in orbit and less than two thousand are active. But, as Daniel Martin points out, these new fleets have been designed “to guarantee coverage of most of the planet’s surface. This means that there must always be a minimum of several satellites of each constellation visible in the sky at all times to guarantee a smooth communication link ”.
SpaceX is not alone. We must not forget that, of course. SpaceX is just one of the nine companies that plan to offer internet via satellite: companies such as Amazon, OneWeb, Samsung, Boeing, Astrome Technologies or Commsat Technology Development already have projects underway and many others are in development. If we continue like this, tens of thousands of satellites will roam the sky in a few years.
Everyone’s heritage It is true that the Starlink satellites are not in their final location. When Langbroek captured them they were about 450 km up, kilometers closer to the earth’s surface than they will be in the next few weeks. That is, there are doubts about its final brightness, but the current brightness has really surprised many who interpret it as a very bad sign.
Mainly because no one seems to take seriously that heaven is everyone’s heritage.