One of the next batch of 60 satellites that SpaceX plan to launch this month will be slightly different. The Starlink satellite will be coated in a less reflective coating to avoid interference with space observations
A new frontier
SpaceX has made lots of headlines this year, with innovations, new missions, and new spacecraft. In their newest development, SpaceX is working to fix the problem with brightness reflecting back from their Starlink satellites.
The reflections have caused problems for astronomers, and SpaceX has taken the issue really seriously.
Gwynne Shotwell, President, and COO says ‘We want to make sure we do the right thing to make sure little kids can look through their telescope. Astronomy is one of the few things that gets little kids excited about space. It’s cool for them to see a Starlink. But they should be looking at Saturn, at the moon. .. and not want to be interrupted.”
As with everything that has never been done before, SpaceX are trialing a new coating on the bottom of the satellites in an effort to reduce the glare. They don’t yet know if this will solve the problem, but will test it on one of 60 satellites being launched at the end of this month.
How many Starlink satellites are up there?
120 satellites have been launched; these are used to beam super-fast internet. There are plans to launch ‘thousands more’ over the next few years. The plan is to launch batches of 60 every two to three weeks until the satellite constellation is complete. SpaceX anticipates that worldwide coverage will be completed by mid-2020.
The first launch took place in May, and the problem with the brightness of the satellites was first reported soon after.
This might be a minor annoyance for amateur stargazers, but could be a serious issue for scientific astronomers who have said there is potential for interference with their research and being able to clearly view the night sky.
The Starlink constellation
SpaceX are very busy bees. They aren’t just launching satellites to provide global high-speed internet, they are also contracted with NASA and last week fulfilled the most recent supply run to the International Space Station (ISS).
The ‘Starlink Megaconstellation Project’ isn’t going to be completed overnight. They are sending the batches of satellites into orbit to be stacked into the configuration.
Elon Musk, the SpaceX co-founder, said ‘In a year and a half, maybe two years, if things go well, SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined — a majority of the satellites in orbit will be SpaceX‘.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has granted permission for SpaceX to launch almost 12,000 Starlink satellites in total.
To put that into perspective, since the launch of Sputnik in 1957 there have been 8.378 satellite launches. There are now estimated to be just under 5,000 in orbit of which only seven are in orbit around a planet other than Earth.
On that basis, Musk is absolutely right; SpaceX is launching more satellites to create their Starlink constellation than will have been launched throughout history!