While Starlink promises to play a crucial role when it comes to the Internet, it also has the potential to increase the burden of light pollution in the night sky. Will there soon come a time, in the not-too-distant future, when the artificial moving “stars” will outnumber the real ones?
The problem didn’t really become apparent to astronomers until the first launch of 60 Starlink satellites in May 2019. To date, SpaceX has launched Starlink batches at a breakneck pace, with more than 2,900 satellites deployed in total and 2,286 more on the way. into orbit and into service in early August 2022.
Ultimately, SpaceX wants to place 12,000 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit, with provisions for a possible 30,000 more. Starlink internet service went live in late 2020.
Unlike the early stage Iridium constellation – which has really only found niche applications – Starlink is already proving its worth. For example, Starlink is currently maintaining internet in Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion.
Starlink is already proving its worth
The main concern in astronomy is the impact on current and future all-sky surveys such as the Vera C. Rubin telescope. This study will survey the sky every night down to a faint magnitude +22, it says Inver.
A recent article in Nature notes that the 1.5-meter Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) telescope at Palomar sees Starlink streaks in 18% of its deep-sky images. A recent statement by the International Astronomical Union called for operational Starlinks to fall below magnitude +7.
Of course, light pollution isn’t really new, and the problem predates Starlink.
SpaceX has had a dizzying launch cadence in 2022, launching an astounding 21 lots this year alone. And there are more to come.
Starlink satellites and light pollution
OneWeb has already deployed 218 satellites for its own constellation, although the war in Ukraine has also stalled the global launch campaign to make it operational by the end of 2022.
Amazon’s Kuiper Constellation will also begin deployment in late 2022/early 2023.
A recent report from the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas also alerted users and SpaceX to the possibility of hacking Starlink, although the company is already working hard to fix this vulnerability.