As SpaceX’s Starlink is amplifying, so can light pollution

“It’s going to be tough to compete against SpaceX in this domain, which has its obvious advantages at launch. Competitors exist and are being formed, but suggests that the market is still looking for opportunities, ”wrote Matthew Winzerel, an economist at Harvard Business School, who researched the commercialization of the space sector in an email to Wired.

A representative of SpaceX’s communications team declined the cable’s interview request.

But a representative from Amazon indicated that the company is aware of potential light pollution. “Reflection is an important consideration in our design and development process. We have already made a number of design and operational decisions that will help reduce our impact on astronomical observations and we will work with community members to better understand their concerns and identify what steps we can take.” Joining, ”the spokesman wrote by email.

Katie Dowd, director of government and corporate affairs at OneWeb in North America, wrote in an email to Wired that the company is in talks with groups including the Royal Astronomical Society of the United Kingdom and the American Astronomical Society to understand the impact it is having on satellite observation. And creating design and operational practices that support both communities.

SpaceX and its rivals cannot avoid light pollution; They can only reduce it. Each object in the atmosphere reflects at least some light in its orbital part, depending on its material, color, and size. When satellites provide information on Earth, a small portion of sunlight is often reflected by both the satellite’s body and its solar array.

Earlier last year, SpaceX tested a Starlink satellite nickname DarkSat, giving it an experimental dark cover on one side with an antenna to reduce reflective brightness, which the company claims reduced by 55 percent. In a paper, some astronomers have observed that the measurement has darkened the satellite but not to that degree, although it has made the satellite invisible to the naked eye. Others did not detect significant darkness at all. They have observed that the measured brightness of a satellite may vary, but it depends on the angle at which it is observed and how light is diffused through the atmosphere.

According to a post on the company’s website, SpaceX has noticed that dark surfaces have warmed up, exposing the satellite’s components and it still reflects light in infrared. So the company later tested a different method, known as Visorsat, to place a number of satellites in the shadow of a rectangular sun, as used in the windshield of a car. These visas are intended to ensure that sunlight bounced from the satellite’s antenna is reflected off the Earth.

So far, SpaceX has not released any information about how well this method works, or how it compares to DarkSat. But another astronomer, in an unpublished paper posted on the academic preprint server, and the bidding team in progress, both individually found that at least 100 percent of the Visorsat spacecraft are still brighter than their preferred range: a layer .Rubin Observatory pictures will not be affected most of the time.

To draw attention to light pollution concerns and work to develop solutions, the American Astronomical Society called a virtual workshop on satellite constellations this summer, known as SatCon2. They plan to issue reports and recommendations soon in conjunction with a meeting called “Dark and Silent Sky for Science and Society” organized by the United Nations and the International Astronomical Union.

Video: Google

SatCon2 organizers prioritize reaching out to a wide range of people concerned about the night sky, including amateur astronomers, astronomers, planetarium communities, environmentalists and indigenous and tribal communities from Canada, New Zealand and other countries in the United States. . “Everyone wanted things to slow down. They want the industry to be more involved. This is a topic that covers everyone around the world, ”said Amina Venkatesan, an astronomer at the University of San Francisco and co-chair of Satcon2 Public Engagement.

As part of SatCon2, a working group of astronomers spoke with representatives of SpaceX and five other major satellite operators about what reflects in the light of discussions and how companies can evaluate and evaluate how their spaceships reflect. They also debated policy options in the United States that could involve regulating how light pollution an Internet satellite could create. These include the possibility of regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which determine launch and re-entry conditions, or the FCC, which licenses radio frequencies in orbit. Some astronomers also want to see the National Environmental Policy Act to end spaceflight – meaning they see space as an environment in need of protection.

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