Modeling made by scientist Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics Harvard & Smithsonian proves that the satellite megaconstellations of SpaceX and others will restrict astronomical observatories to a six-hour program per night. The observations nearer to the horizon and near twilight will become nearly impossible.
SpaceX already launched 358 satellites from the 12.000 fleet it intends to have in the Low Earth Orbit. Rumors say there will be 42.000 satellites in the end. But the hundreds of satellites (future tens of thousands) are too close to Earth, bellow 600 kilometers, and they are reflecting too much light so they can transform observations into window-blind effect pictures.
The good intentional part of Elon Musk’s program is the global internet. But let’s not forget that SpaceX isn’t the only company deploying satellites with the same interest. There are other companies and other countries that won’t and shouldn’t accept Musk’s monopoly.
Satellite Megaconstellations to Interfere With Astronomical Observations
Ground observations of the universe are highly relevant, and they shouldn’t compete with technological advances. Satellites aren’t the only problem of or low orbit. Earth is also surrounded by a cloud of debris that is not just an obstacle in the way of astronomical observations. It also represents a risk of impact. Either with Earth or with spacecraft.
The cloud of debris is composed of 20,000 pieces of spacecraft that no more extended function, abandoned launch vehicle stages, or waste and fragmentation debris from former space missions. There is an entire sub-unit of space scavengers that take daily-care, so the garbage doesn’t cause harm. We’ve made space too crowded for our own safety, and we continue to do so.
After contesting the astronomers’ worries for months, SpaceX made a compromise, and the last batch launched was made of satellites covered in a dark material that will hopefully diminish their reflectivity. It is a most welcomed compromise, but whether this would work, it remains to be seen. However, satellite megaconstellations can indeed interfere with astronomical observations.