December 1, 2019 77

Could SpaceX’s Plans for Universal Internet Ruin Astronomy?

Could SpaceX’s Plans for Universal Internet Ruin Astronomy?

SpaceX recently launched its first batch of
60 satellites into low-Earth orbit, getting us one step closer to global internet coverage. Dubbed Starlink, this program will eventually
form a mega constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites hovering about 550km above Earth. But as the twinkling post-launch satellite
train moved its way across the sky, astronomers across the globe watched and wondered—are these things always going to be so…bright? Many astronomers fear that Starlink will interfere
with scientific observations. Starlink’s solar-powered, roughly 225kg
satellites communicate with one another through optical and radio links, and connect with
ground terminals that can operate from pretty much anywhere. These satellites are expected to dramatically
improve data transfer speeds and connectivity compared with existing technologies, like
Iridium satellites, of which there are currently 66 in active orbit. Starlink is also poised to drastically improve
bandwidth—potentially surpassing fiber optics—and reduce latency, or lag, which will be great
for industries that rely on getting information fast. And the biggest selling point here? Internet for all. That’s great news! But what about the risks of Starlink cluttering
our night sky? Roughly 5,000 satellites currently crowd Earth’s
immediate environment, and Starlink is set to nearly triple that number. So astronomers aren’t exactly starstruck with this idea. In recent statements, astronomical groups
strongly recommended that a regulatory framework be developed to address a number of new challenges
posed by the potential increase in satellite bodies. As the plan currently stands, some of the
satellites will utilize frequencies neighboring those that radio astronomers use to study
the sky. This interference could make it tricky for
ground-based instruments, like the Event Horizon Telescope, to clearly view distant objects
in space. I mean if it hadn’t been for a sky free of radio interference, researchers may never have captured our first image of a black hole. And then there’s the problem of all the
light that Starlink generates. Like Iridium satellites, they can “flare”
by throwing bursts of reflected sunlight back from their solar arrays down toward Earth. Flares aside, it’s suggested that the satellites
will also be consistently bright. Initial estimates of the satellites’ visibility
suggested they’d sit at an apparent magnitude just slightly dimmer than the North star. While updated reports indicate that they’ll
now sit within a lower magnitude range of about 5 to 7, and this suggests that Starlink
will remain visible to the naked eye. And all that satellite contamination really
adds up. These reflective objects could confuse sensitive
optical telescopes designed to survey the entire sky, like the Large Synoptic Survey
Telescope in Chile. Once all 12,000 satellites are in orbit, estimates
say up to four Starlink satellites will likely appear in every single one of the telescope’s
images in the hours approaching twilight. Musk has said that they’ll need at least
“six more launches of 60 satellites” for minor coverage. Each satellite is designed to only last for
a few years, dropping from the wider Starlink array and burning up upon entry into Earth’s
atmosphere. And that’s just it. With Starlink’s satellites in space, traffic
increases—and the risk of satellite collisions goes up, too. Collisions pose a national security threat,
and current guidelines to safely manage orbiting objects are pretty flimsy. If a collision does occur, it would add to
the already half a million pieces of space junk present in Earth’s orbit. And in response to all this, Elon Musk has focused
on the need for internet access for all, and that “we need to move telescopes to orbit
anyway.” But where does that leave astronomers who
don’t have the ability to travel into space on a whim? Or even those of us who just love to stargaze? Space is basically a regulatory wild west,
which presents a whole lot of unknowns for us here on Earth. To address astronomers’ worries that communication
satellites could ruin their careers, SpaceX has been working with the National Science Foundation and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to try and keep observations clear of any disturbance. It’s also announced plans to redesign the
next Starlink batch to appear less bright. But SpaceX isn’t the only company casting
an Internet into the galactic sea. OneWeb launched a fleet of comms satellites
earlier this year, and is also working on ways to reduce radio frequency interference
and low-Earth orbit clutter. Canadian company Telestat promises to operate
its satellites at higher orbits so they’ll appear fainter. Amazon, too, is quietly developing tech for
its own Project Kuiper. As the market for space real estate heats
up, projects like Starlink are destined to become more common. Close collaboration between astronomers and
these companies will be essential to keep internet connections strong and our observations
of the sky clear. Because after all, astronomers are kind of
like our very own guardians of the galaxy. So what do you think, is it time to move astronomy
into space, or figure out a way to move satellites away from Earth? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t
forget to subscribe for more Seeker. I’ll see you next time, thanks for watching.

77 Replies to “Could SpaceX’s Plans for Universal Internet Ruin Astronomy?”

  • Chloe Mcholoe says:

    Damn this sounds bad. I’m worried we’re screwed up eartg

  • Scientology Scientology says:

    Revelations happenning right before our eyes,no way to run. Globalisation,one world Government.

  • Nekminute says:

    Finally pornhub everywhere !

  • niki123489 says:

    I don't think these satelites are going to reduce latency .

  • metal garurumon says:

    Illogical title. It will ruin another monopoly data company

  • spchamreoun says:

    Who need 5G starlink coming

  • razark9 says:

    What about the kessler syndrome effect? How would SpaceX mission affect future space travel?

  • Zepp says:

    "This channel is sponsored by baby seals killers company"

    Well actually they're not.

  • miggy rob says:

    The internet was the worst thing ever invented

  • Mass Debater says:

    Private space exploration and construction should be banned

  • Joseph A Gamble says:

    Elon Musketeer won't be the next Buck Rogers in the 2025 century well I hope he won't because I want to be lol joking but is that his dream lol… Don't know if the Moon would be a cool junkyard or if they'll make a new moon out of space junk .

  • Billy Burger says:

    Folks do we know what that background music is?

  • Justine Kurt Rivera says:

    Nice motivation space x thats why I'm very concerned that I would buy the company in the future

  • Guy Cruls says:

    all telescopes are migrating to space, you 🦕🦕🦕🦕 !!!

  • jbars says:


  • Dean says:

    The new cool thing that will help nearly all of humanity, Seeker " want to see the stars"

  • KUTTHROAT What says:

    Internet for all we still have to pay for? Wow

  • Clutch says:

    's analogy is perfect. We're never going to get away from satellites, and the numbers are only going to increase exponentially as access to space becomes cheaper. I think the only viable way forward is to move these observatories off of the Earth. All the more reason to keep our eyes on the moon. The next leader in astronomy may very well be determined by who builds the first large space observatory on the dark side of the moon. And chances are that by then there will be a forward thinking company offering high bandwidth-low latency internet connections between the moon and the Earth to beam all of that precious data back home.

  • SrmthfgRockLee says:

    lag — games

  • Tudor Dinescu says:

    How about satellite collision with planes in air? Isn't that a higher risk in the future?

  • glenn robèrt says:

    Skynet goes live…ENGAGED!

  • L CRUZ says:

    You forgot to note that these satellites have anti collision systems.

  • Robert Lewis says:

    I guess this is the angle the monopolies will take, pretending it isn't them complaining since the FCC for some reason isn't listening to their lies. Comcast, Spectrum etc. aren't use to competition and won't no part of such a thing. They buy the state politicians an genus voters put the same ones back in over & over, so laws all around that stops completion. So they got the astronomers complaining and hoping to start a movement I guess. Probably paid for this video also, but deny deny deny. USA corps hate such a thing as competition while pretending its in the consumers best interest. Just shut up already complaining about something you know nothing about. Once the satellites are in position they don't really show up and I don't care of they shine like the moon anyway.

  • bollyblob says:

    cheap internet for everyone + funding future musk ventures is way more gamebreakingly important for humanity than 'stargazing' and ground telescopes

  • Frag Zilla says:

    The same way that motor cars ruined horses and carriages? come on, stop being imature. In a world where launching into space is about the same price as an economy international flight, who in their right mind would use an earth based sattelite as opposed to one launced in space? or ones that even orbit the sun…. think ahead… but shes cute so ill pretend like she ahas a point

  • Lorenzo Wormer says:

    What a weirdly placed Guardians of the Galaxy reference…. Nevertheless appreciate it ^^

  • Bear Lemley says:

    Same company will be able to send 100+ tons (mass of hubble x 8.9) of space telescope hardware to space per launch, so no worries.

  • profeszor says:

    Real astronomer here, and let me break down the problem for everyone here who keeps rehashing Musk's non-assurance for astronomers:

    1. 99% of all internet data transfers today are done not through satellites but undersea cables (US Federal Communications Commission). If you guys are commenting here you already have reliable access to the internet, and the benefit that Starlink is providing is to a very small minority of people living in places where it is hard to have an undersea cable connection (either lacking an economy of scale or that it is a sheer logistical impossibility). You're not part of that minority. So no: the main benefit of "internet for all" is barely a benefit—you already have internet at speeds that you need. Starlink internet service is also not free, FYI. If we want better and faster internet, we can always build more fibre-optic cables, which is a reliable technology.

    2. For the rest who keep saying we should transition to space-based telescopes, this is also an error. It is not because it is costly to send telescopes up to space that we don't, it is simply unnecessary for most types of telescopes to be in space. Modern telescopes like the Keck and GMT have what we call adaptive optics that effectively removes the atmosphere in the sky by continuously bending and unbending mirrors in a certain way measured with lasers pointing through the atmosphere. We literally do not need to send telescopes to space, unless we need to observe in ultra-high resolution in the deep infrared (like the JWST) or in X-rays (see Chandra). Astronomy is one of the most well-funded sciences in the US, and if we want to send something up to space, we will. The suggestion (from Musk) that ground-based telescopes are inferior to space-based ones only shows how much he doesn't understand how astronomy is done.

    3. Astronomers are not against Starlink (though I am very against the dumb arguments for it). We just want regulation to the kind of stuff put out there that pollutes the night sky. I don't think it's unreasonable at all!

  • bk207a001 gmail says:

    its worth it.

  • bk207a001 gmail says:

    blackhole assholes.

  • LucidLucifer says:

    Stop spreading ignorant fear!

  • Bit Master says:

    more telescopes in space will fix this issue. lets get the damn JWT up and running FFS

  • Hermes ED says:

    SpaceX should help astronomers to built many telescopes in space for free

  • Alberto Herran says:

    How can we make an efficient/effective way to collect space trash and debris?

  • Ruben de León says:

    Let's talk priorities here. First: how much faster my connection will be? 😉

  • Jinxed says:

    Now astronomers prey for the Sun to fart a big fat sun-flair.

  • Joshua Toche says:

    I would like to ask you a legitimate question. Would it be better to invigorate the world with higher levels of human capital, possibly decreasing astronomy's ability to search for things of little relevance in the immediate future of man and the possibility of creating vast amounts of better astronomical tools and spreading beyond this terrestrial cradle of ours, or is it better to stagnate the global development of man and relegate the ability of our species to leave this planet to fewer and fewer of our kind as not enough have the necessary knowledge that could be gained through a global internet system and thus we are less likely to explore the stars as one species? I know that was long and if you read it all thanks for taking the time, but in all seriousness a simple stagnation in one field for a short time can prove to be beneficial in the long run and whether it is pragmatic to take that route.

  • Wade Dudley says:

    Definitely time to move astronomy into space and I think Elon should help with that too

  • beenn15 says:

    Seeker, please don't perpetuate false information about Starlink.
    This whole thing has been debunked. Starlink is NOT a threat to astronomy.

  • Kerty Operty says:

    Hopefully with these new internet for all options, the monopoly on internet in america will be fixed.

  • Joseph Guillory says:

    We can't see stars on earth anymore.

  • anthonyhdean says:

    I liked Dnews better…

  • Ben Drury says:

    When first hearing about Starlink, I was worried about Kessler syndrome. But after looking at the proposed orbital height of the Starlink satellites, Kessler syndrome is basically a non-issue, as any debris from a collision is going to predominantly stay in super low orbit, and without some form of propulsion to keep them up the atmospheric drag will remove the debris very quickly. The light pollution is by far the biggest issue, and with the right materials, and planning a solvable one.

  • Micah Ottaway says:

    It is imperative that we do not trap our species with a Kessler Syndrome situation.

  • areamusicale says:

    what about fiber optic?

  • For Comment Purposes says:

    Ahaha satelite better then fibra optica what a bunch of shet

  • Bob Owens says:

    It is already impossible for amateur astronomers to see anything because of the geoengineered skies.

  • Enlightened_One ॐ says:

    I cant be the only one who feels that she is really beautiful

  • Javier Domínguez says:

    Chile CTM

  • Stephen Courton says:

    False. You only see satellites at night if they still in sunlight. Like near dawn or dusk if lower orbits. At worst Starlink satellites only visible 2-3 hours before sunrise or after sunset, in middle of night they also in Earth’s shadow when over horizon and not visible. Most astronomy during this darkest time of night anyway,

  • Joe JJJ says:

    damn 12000? that could block out the sun!

  • Renier Botha says:

    Mofos… Stfu… Wanna go back to the stone age or move forward?

  • Goku says:

    If we're burning up a few hundred satellites every few years – that's a lot of wasted materials. How does he plan to keep replacing all these rare earth materials in the satellites?

  • A N says:

    Must everyone really have Internet? Look at how it's turned so many into drones. 5% of Musk's initial launch group already failed and can't be controlled, aka space junk. Musk is no God, just a businessman.

  • Jamie Drinkard says:

    Internet for all > night sky

  • Kirk Claybrook says:

    This might help expedite invisibility cloaking technology 😛

  • Kirk Claybrook says:

    You missed the 3rd option – cloaking technology 😛

  • TheHueisOver™ says:

    That background is making me wanna puke.

  • opollo says:

    Who cares cos they can do what they want

  • revolutionary pickle says:

    Can we focus on water for all first

  • Tyler Durden says:

    Irrelevant question, no one has the right to stop him from doing it.

  • CODY AU SYDNEY says:

    Fibre to the home would possibly be more secure and reliable than RF medium. More optical astronomy like Hubble needed , let's see musk build a few Hubble scopes and where his profit will be. Mm, Musks own private Internet , the boys in Siberia will like that one

  • CODY AU SYDNEY says:

    You only get access if you own a Tesla , and it still costs $69.95 per month ,,,,, just kidding

  • Daniel Beach says:

    Or…let SpaceX do its thing so they can put people, machines and gasp more telescopes into space, y'dummies.

  • sergioh’s says:

    Perhaps by then that moon project could turn to be an observatory

  • Public Service Announcements PSA's says:

    We turn our planet into an eye, while darkening our view of the clear sky.

  • Master Adit says:

    Now you can't tell your teacher that you couldn't download images for the project because internet wasn't there.

  • tonex36 says:

    Xray powered satellite?

  • Brantley May says:

    12,000 satellites is nothing compared to the size of earth. Would you noticed 12,000 cars very often around the entire world if they were driving in the sky instead of the road? I’m sure there are many more than 12,000 planes in the sky at one time. I don’t think it’s a big deal.

  • Pablo Wancho says:

    🌟Hey Elon listen to me. These are the things you need to do.

    1. Create a machine that will lessen pollution and plastic production

    2. Create a telco company that will provide fastest internet around the world using your goddamn satellites

    3. Create a machine that can plant hundreds of trees everyday.

    4. Stop creating spaceships and finding life on Mars the life is here on earth don't be blind.There's a lot people suffering from famine and you keep spending truck loads of cash. Actually this message is not for you alone. I mean all billionaires around the world.

  • Ron Alaska says:

    If we give up the internet and go back to smoke signals we will be OK

  • Talismancer says:

    Being harsh here…it's a short term problem that will annoy a lot of people. As launch costs reduce dramatically we'll end up with no professional instruments on the surface. On the other hand, we're already seeing the need for an orbital traffic control as current satellites literally play chicken with near-misses to see who'll move their satellite first.

  • Greg Hamilton says:

    Mr Musk assures us it's all about internet access for all but when you look into it, it seems to be more about faster stock market trading than anything else. After all, that's where the real money will be made. Not off the back of individuals downloading gigs of data but corporations using terabytes of data.
    Think about it. Which market would YOU be trying to corner…?

  • Danie van der Westhuizen says:

    BS… BADLY researched report…Frankly quite surprised as your reporting thus far has been factual. 1 ) In order to get the approval to launch, there were a lot of protocols these satellites had to adhere to, including and not limited to, they completely burn up in re-entry, had collision prevention systems, etc etc . 2 ) They are all operating in a specific pattern using a predetermined wavelength to communicate. Something that would be very easy for astronomers to amend to the filter list in their data processing. 3) First time I did not even finish watching a Seeker video…terribly disappointed with this nonsense.

  • Peter Palumbo says:

    In my opinion STARLINK an other mega constellations of satellites should be banned. It is beyond me how anyone cold come up with such a hubristic idea. The old saying, "There should be a law against it", seems to apply here. We should be getting rid of space junk not making more of it!

  • matycee says:

    Why not coat those satellites in Vantablack or whatever the newer superblack coating is called??? I'm all like – duh?

  • matycee says:

    Why not coat those satellites in Vantablack or whatever the newer superblack coating is called??? I'm all like – duh?

  • Firoz Ahmed says:

    It's time to put some telescope in our orbit , I think Elon will do it.

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