We need to talk about SpaceX’s Starlink. First off – what is SpaceX, what does Starlink mean and why is everyone talking about it?
Space Exploration Technology Corp, better known as “SpaceX” is the company founded by South African billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. He created the company in 2002 to invest in space transportation and fund future exploration to Mars.
Starlink is a constellation of satellites that SpaceX is constructing in order to provide broadband internet access around the globe. This is a huge project that will take a decade and cost around 10 billion US dollars.
What’s the big deal?
The size and scale of the Starlink project has enormous and potentially devastating impact. An estimated 12,000 satellites are planned which will orbit much closer to the earth. Already, the first Starlink satellites have proved to be much brighter (orbiting as they do 550 km away) and astronomers have reported that their observations have been affected by satellites crossing the night sky.
Stargazing as we know it may soon be a thing of the past
SpaceX continues to create controversy in astronomical circles and environmental concerns. They recently announced a petition for an extra 30,000 satellites orbiting at circa 400 km altitude.
As critics have pointed out, this equates to a 300 % increase in the number of satellites initially predicted. This staggering increase will mean the satellites are less spaced out, resulting in a higher risk of collision.
What happens if two Starlink satellites collide?
A single collision could create a chain reaction of more satellites crashing as the debris expands. Also, SpaceX is a private company. If they can garner the rights to launch 40,000 satellites with as little as 120 km between them – then what is next? If every space cowboy with enough money behind them can launch satellites into our orbit then the night sky as we know it is about look very different.
Is SpaceX liable for the cleanup of debris in the event of collisions? These are low lifespan satellites – will there be replacements and if so, for how long?
What is the argument for Starlink?
SpaceX founder Elon Musk claims the satellites will eventually provide broadband connectivity around the world; and defenders of the Starlink program argue that the mass production will work. NASA deploy simulation tests before they approve a mission such as SpaceX’s Starlink and Starship (the long duration passenger spacecraft. Think: flights to Mars).
The autonomous collision avoidance technology runs a low risk of accidental debris. Finally, projects of such vast scope and barely contemplatable expense are one of a kind. SpaceX may be a pioneer in this space (pun certainly intended) but this does not necessarily follow that hordes of space cowboys will have the funds, expertise and approval to follow suite.
What will Starlink mean for you?
The biggest opponents to Starlink are astronomers, astrophotographers and astrophysicists. They argue that such an impactful project will have potentially destructive effects on our vision of the night sky. Both the brightness and volume of the satellites could forever ruin the experience of stargazing.
Is it worth it for free internet?
Access to broadband internet from around the globe is a concept that appeals to many. Will we sacrifice our clear night sky for it?
The price of the universe for an internet page to load, that seems like a raw deal to us. Here at Under Lucky Stars we believe the night sky is worth fighting for.
How can you help?
Spread the word. We all need to be talking about Starlink and raising awareness of the impact - it could be irreversible.
Join our campaign! We are looking to raise awareness and funds. Check out our page to see how you can get involved and support our fundraiser.
Help us to #SaveTheNightSky