Is Elon Musk’s ‘Megaconstations’ blurred in the night sky? | Satellite

THe is a natural stone in the night sky, a sensitive stone for all of us. Everyone who lives today looks at the same stars, regardless of where they are on the same planet. But the connection is deeper because next to our short lives, the stars are immortal. Shakespeare saw the same stars in the same pattern as we do. Galileo, Columbus, the Ark of Joan, Cleopatra, and the first human ancestors to explore curiosity. The night sky is no less than our common human heritage.

Last year, something happened that could change that perspective forever. On May 23, 2019, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX launched 60 small satellites from a single rocket. The satellites were planned to be a “megaconstellation” of thousands of satellites that would bring the entire planet under the Internet.

A day later, Marco Langbrook, a satellite tracker from the Netherlands, was walking over the top of the satellite – and a video of what he saw blew his mind. “It started with two unconscious, flashing objects in the field of vision,” he wrote on his blog. . “Then a few decades later, my jaw dropped as I entered the‘ train ’viewing area. I’m ‘OAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA !!! !!!! (Then a few expressives …). He posted a video of what he saw.

Since then, SpaceX has launched hundreds more Starlink satellites, and although cutting these satellites overhead has become a new hobby for some, others are concerned about cultural influences, and the way it could affect our relationship with the night sky. Without checking, we will never be able to see the cosmic perspective with our own helpless eyes. Instead, it will always be plagued by bright, man-made objects.

“There will be no survivors in a few generations who remember the night sky before this satellite. They will grow with Starlink and other proposed megaconstructions as part of the night sky concept. I think this is a radical change, ”said Alice Gorman of Flinders University in South Australia, a leading figure in the emerging field of space archeology and heritage.

“One of the reasons people value the night sky is that it gives you a sense of transcendence and connection with the universe and inspires thinking about the meaning of life and the vast amount of stars and galaxies. It seems to be an experience that really values ​​people and so people argued that the right of the night sky is a kind of fundamental to being human, ”Gorman said.

Adding instantaneity to this discussion is that the more researchers and traders think about megaconstellations, the more they understand what they can do with them. Telecommunications, navigation, weather forecasting, climate observation and other earth observations, space science – the boundaries are just human imagination.

Jordi Puig-Suri is holding a cubesat, which he invented with Stanford Professor Bob Twigs.
Jordi Pug-Suri holds a cubeset, which he invented with Stanford University professor Bob Twigs. Photo: California Polytechnic State University
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By any measure, this is a remarkable moment in the history of our study and use of outdoor space. But what could be the consequences?

Megaconstillations have been made possible by the miniaturization of technology, and the drive was spearheaded by Bob Twigs of Stanford University and Jordi Puig-Suari of California Polytechnic State University in the 1990s.

Cubesets are tiny satellites. Their smallest ones are only 10 x 10 x 10 cm. Scott Williams, program director at SIR International, who was developing small satellites himself in the late 1980s, “The size was guided by the size of the Beanie Baby Box,” he then began working with Twigs on the basic concepts of Cubsats. No.

Samson Fan, a senior research engineer at SRI International, said: “Getting students involved in bringing some of space into space through the PhD period was purely an educational topic.”

Dition Historically, satellites are about the size of a car. These are extremely expensive to spend and spend many years designing, building and introducing. The goal of the Cubsat program was a student team that would be able to build a labor satellite in a few years that could transmit a radio signal like the first artificial satellite, Russia’s Sputnik 1. But from the initial idea of ​​developing an educational resource, a great vision was quick to form.

Both Williams and his then-colleague Victor Aguero saw a parallel to the way in which microcomputers revolutionized technology. “The vision was: Can you do more with less? Instead of building a great trillion-dollar satellite, would you be able to master enough of many cheap satellites? “He said.

After completing their PhD, Williams and Aguero moved to SRI International, where Williams focused on the development and exploitation of Cubesat’s small satellites in general and in particular. And now the fruits of those labors really begin to appear. The small satellite market is exploding.

From 1998 to 2012, more than 120 small satellites were launched. In the next two years, that number more than doubled. Tally now runs about 500 small satellites a year, mostly consisting of Starlink units. Although they are not cubesat, they apply the same principle to a small, ordinary satellite that can produce mass to reduce costs.

In July, the UK government bought ও 400 million worth of shares on OneWeb, which plans to launch its own 5,050 small satellites to provide services on the Internet and a satellite, following the UK’s cancellation of the Galileo project in the European Union due to BRACSIT.

Beyond communication and navigation, tiny satellites open up a whole new world of scientific investigation. The European Space Agency (ESA) now has a dedicated man to investigate what missions have been enabled by Cubates around the Earth and in deep space.

But for all the promise, there are some big issues with megakonstlations. One of the largest places is the ruins. If satellites collide in orbit, they produce a cloud of debris that could destroy other satellites, possibly triggering a chain reaction known as Kessler syndrome. And the danger will only increase as the number of satellites in the orbit of megakonstellations increases immediately.

“Suddenly, we have an additional burden on space traffic management, which, after all, is in the early stages of existence,” says Hugh Lewis, an expert on space debris at the University of Southampton.

The earliest picture of this problem came in September 2012 when a first batch of Starlink satellites collided with an ESA € 481m Iolas Earth observation satellite. Due to a miscommunication between the two agencies, the ESA was not in half-orbit before the potential catastrophe of removing their satellite from the danger zone.

“There’s a lot of the unknown here and there’s a lot of uncertainty involved with things like space protection,” Lewis said. “We don’t have road rules yet.” The good news, however, is that almost all commercial space companies he has spoken to are aware of these issues and are doing their best to resolve them.

But then there are astronomers. They will probably lose the most from megakonstells because satellites will forever exceed their field of vision and impair their ability to collect data from distant universes. For example, the huge C-Rubin Observatory, an American-funded facility in Chile. This giant telescope has been in development for more than 20 years, costing millions of dollars. It is designed to begin the deepest survey of the night sky by 2022, but now astronomers are wondering how to deal with the proliferation of Starlink satellites that will cover its images every night.

Nanosatellite in space.
The world of complete scientific investigation … nanosellites in space. Photograph: A picture of the history of science / stock photo in Alam

Robert Massey, deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society, took special interest in the consequences and realized that it was a noticeable problem. “I acknowledge that space has multiple uses, and astronomers are not the only community to share it,” he said. “On the other hand, you could also argue that private companies are not the only ones that are now partners in the commercialization of low-Earth orbit. These should be controlled such as the earth’s crust and the atmosphere, the sea and so on.

To its credit, SpaceX did not blindly address these concerns. In response to the shortage with ESA, the company claimed to have changed its communication system. Furthermore, as a result of conversations with the Royal Astronomical Society and others, SpaceX has darkened the latest batches of spacecraft and installed a “Visa” that prevents them from reading most of the satellite. By correcting these two, satellites should only be visible to the naked eye when they are in their final orbit – although this will not harm anyone’s point of view using even the smallest telescope.

Some people find it unbearable, but others see things very differently. “People fall into two camps,” Gorman said. “Someone said: ‘It came, we’ve put so much in space now that it’ll always be in our mouths,’ and the other kind of people are incredibly excited.”

Elon Musk
People tend to fall into two camps: suspicious and incredibly excited … Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX. Photo: Steve Nesias / Reuters

Williams is the next one. “The stars are great and the planets are great. But if you’re trying to seduce an eight-year-old, it needs to be moved. I remember the first time I saw a man-made object go across the sky. It was amazing,” he said. The stars are getting bigger, and this kind of image is becoming more easily accessible to young people, I think they will look for these things and wonder: what can we do with it? “

In fact, there were many people who were already thrilled to see the Starlink train, flooded with social media with pictures and excitement. Macy, however, feels that it has been driven further by fancy prices and that interest will wane over time. “If people could see a string of bright satellites across the sky, they would definitely be interested. I think the problem is when you have a full sky, even if they are hungry. It’s a bit like a blue sky plane and full of contrast. We certainly don’t see it as something to celebrate, ”says Massey.

The history of mankind has been one where we have regularly reevaluated our connection with the night sky: from the heavenly realm of the gods, to a mysterious sphere of influence over our lives, to a universe of accessible celestial objects, its modern incarnation as a kingdom of destinations that we may one day colonize. Perhaps the uninterrupted presence of visible satellites is just one of these turning points.

No matter what camp you fall into, there is no doubt that one of the most amazing ways to consider nature and our place in it was through dramatic change matic and only time will tell what the consequences of this change will be.

Stuart Clark’s latest book, Knight Below: How the The stars There is Shaped Last hour Mankind, published October 1 by the Guardian Faber

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