Satellite constellations: Astronomers warn of threat to view of Universe
Astronomers are warning that their view of the Universe could be under threat.
From next week, a campaign to launch thousands of new satellites will begin in earnest, offering high-speed internet access from space.
But the first fleets of these spacecraft, which have already been sent into orbit by US company SpaceX, are affecting images of the night sky.
They are appearing as bright white streaks, so dazzling that they are competing with the stars.
Scientists are worried that future “mega-constellations” of satellites could obscure images from optical telescopes and interfere with radio astronomy observations.
Dr Dave Clements, an astrophysicist from Imperial College London, told BBC News: “The night sky is a commons – and what we have here is a tragedy of the commons.”
The companies involved said they were working with astronomers to minimise the impact of the satellites.
Why are so many satellites being launched?
It’s all about high-speed internet access.
Instead of being constrained by wires and cables, satellites can beam internet access down to the ground from space.
And if you have lots of them in orbit, it means even the most remote regions can get connectivity.
Billionaires plan to launch tens of thousands of new satellites. Experts are working hard to ensure this doesn’t lead to a disaster that ends human access to orbit.
SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, and reportedly even Apple plan to collectively launch tens of thousands of internet-beaming satellites over the next decade.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, has the most ambitious plans with approval from the US government to launch nearly 12,000 of its Starlink satellites — though it’s seeking permission to launch a total of 42,000.
Though Musk said Starlink satellites have collision-avoidance systems, one came relatively close to smashing into a European satellite in September.
The likelihood of satellite collisions and dangerous space debris will go up as more spacecraft are launched. Militaries that destroy satellites during tests or wars will make the problem even worse.
Experts worry that debris orbiting Earth could lead to a “Kessler syndrome” domino effect that cuts off human access to space for hundreds or even thousands of years.