Are SpaceX Polluting the Stars?
Vincent Plant discusses the issues of SpaceX’s newest project which is going into launch right now.
SpaceX has a plan that will transform the night sky. Elon Musk aims to place 42,000 mini-satellites into orbit. This is project Starlink, with the aim to (for a price) provide internet access to anyone in the world.
However, not everyone is as excited about the project as Elon is. Astronomers at an observatory in Chile were observing the Magellanic clouds when they noticed bright streaks flashing across the image, ruining up to a fifth of the image.
If Musk gets his way, it’s only going to get more familiar; in addition to putting 240 in orbit already, Musk is seeking approval for the remaining 30,000.
This was caused by 19 SpaceX satellites streaking above them. This sort of thing has been becoming more commonplace as we fill up the night sky with satellites and their debris. If Musk gets his way, it’s only going to get more familiar; in addition to putting 240 in orbit already, Musk is seeking approval for the remaining 30,000.
It’s not just astronomers who are worried. Some organisms use constellations to navigate meaning the bright streaks of light across the sky might conceivably do unexpected damage. In addition, the night sky is argued to be something that all humans have in common, something we all share since time immemorial- something that shouldn’t be allowed to be changed by one man.
So, should SpaceX be allowed to go ahead? To my mind at least, it isn’t all that necessary; most of the world already has internet coverage. Is it useful to shoot thousands of satellites into space to this end? In an emergency situation, there are things that might be more helpful, such as the ability to call emergency services.
This has the potential to shut humanity on Earth, unable to leave the atmosphere.
It also seems irresponsible. As of yet, there is no global agreement about light satellites in contrast with audio. This means that any one country could act in ways which affect the entire planet, despite other countries outlawing the same practices. In addition, there is also the risk of Kessler syndrome– a runaway creation of debris which could occur once a critical density of objects above the Earth is reached. This has the potential to shut humanity on Earth, unable to leave the atmosphere. Given the 500,000 pieces of debris between 1cm and 10cm, this needs to be considered.
SpaceX is trying to solve the problems, but for now at least, maybe the sky should be the limit on this one.