Like the StarX Ramp in SpaceX, Pollution is Just as Bright


“It can be difficult to compete against SpaceX in this domain, given the obvious launch advantage. Competitors have and have done, however, suggesting that the market is still seeing opportunities,” wrote Matthew Weinzierl, an economist at Harvard Business School researching the commercialization of the space sector, in an email to WIRED.

A representative from SpaceX’s communications team declined interview requests from WIRED.

But a representative from Amazon announced that the company is aware of potential light pollution issues. Mirroring is a key consideration in our design and development process. We have already made a number of design and operation decisions that will help reduce our impact on astronomical observations, and we have engaged with community members to better understand their concerns and know the steps. that we can, ”the spokesperson wrote via email.

Katie Dowd, director of government and corporate activities at OneWeb in North America, wrote in an email to WIRED that the company was talking to groups, including the Royal Astronomical Society of the UK and the American Astronomical Society, to understand the impacts on observational satellites, “and to create design and operation plans that support the same communities. We also make light measurements and look at the results to evaluate solutions.”

SpaceX and rivals cannot avoid light pollution; they can only underestimate it. Every object in the air reflects even a small amount of light about its orbit, depending on its materials, color, and size. As satellites scatter information all the way to Earth, a small amount of sunlight is also constantly visible, both in the satellite body and in the solar array.

Early last year, SpaceX tested a Starlink satellite dubbed Darksat, giving it an experimental dark coating on one side, including antennas, to reduce bright light, which it claimed in the company reduced by 55 percent. on a role, some astronomers know that the scale darkens the satellite but not to that degree, even if it makes the satellite invisible to the satellite. The rest the cause of the blackout was never found. They found that the measured light on the satellite can vary, however, depending on the angle it is observed and how the light is scattered through the air.

Agreed to a post on the company’s website, SpaceX found that the dark surfaces are heating up, endangering the satellite’s components, and they are still reflecting infrared light. That’s why the company later tried a different method called Visorsat, which deployed multiple satellites with rectangular land shades similar to those used in a car mirror. The visors are intended to ensure that the sunlight that explodes on the satellites ’antennas is visible from Earth.

To date, no information has been released to the public about how good this approach is, or how it compares to Darksat. but another astronomer, in an unpublished paper posted on the academic preprint server arXiv.org, and Boley’s team working on the development, both independently found that at least 70 percent of Visorsat spacecraft brighter than their desired threshold: a level to ensure that images at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory are largely unaffected.

To draw attention to light pollution concerns and to maximize solutions, the American Astronomical Society convened a virtual workshop on satellite constellations this summer, known as SatCon2. They plan to release reports and recommendations soon, in conjunction with a meeting starting this Sunday, called “Dark and Calm Heaven for Science and Society, ”Organized by the United Nations and the International Astronomical Union.

Video: Google

The organizers of SatCon2 have made it a priority to reach out to many people who care about the night sky, including amateur astronomers, astrophotographers, planetarium communities, environmentalists, and indigenous and tribal communities from United States, Canada, New Zealand, and other countries. “Everyone wants things to slow down. They want the industry to get involved. It’s something that belongs to everyone as a global phenomenon, ”said Amina Venkatesan, an astrophysicist at the University of San Francisco and SatCon2 public engagement co-chair.

As part of SatCon2, a working group of astronomers spoke with representatives from SpaceX and five other major satellite operators about what is shown to be limited by the light proposed by the researchers, and how companies can investigate and minimize how their spacecraft reflects. They also debated U.S. internal policy options that could include setting rules on how much light pollution can be generated on the internet. This includes the possibility of regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, which sets the conditions for launch and reentry, or the FCC, which licenses radio frequencies in orbit. Some astronomers also want to see the National Environmental Policy Act to end its release for space – that is, they see space as an environment in need of protection.



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