SpaceX works on a “dark” Starlink to avoid disturbing astronomical observations

Hyperaxion May 11, 2020

SpaceX is studying a series of changes to its Starlink satellites to minimize the impact of these devices on astronomical observations.

This project by Elon Musk’s space systems company consists of a satellite “constellation” of about 42,000 satellites that will be placed in orbit to bring high-speed Internet to all corners of the world.

SpaceX works on a "dark" Starlink to avoid disturbing astronomical observations
Starlink satellites seen from the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA).

After the launch of the first batches of satellites, the SpaceX initiative received a lot of criticism from several astronomers, who claim that these devices are “polluting” the skies, making astronomical observations difficult.

Now SpaceX is working on a “DarkSat”, which will be a kind of “dark mode” and will cause the reflectivity of the satellites to be reduced by almost half. In addition to the reflectivity of the satellites, SpaceX is also studying changes in the way they orbit.

The changes were announced during a presentation by Astro2020 (Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020), an event organized by the United States National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

As the Spanish news agency Europa Press explains, the big problem with these satellites is related to the fact that they periodically capture and reflect sunlight, especially when they leave the Earth’s shadow and are directly exposed to sunlight – which occurs during the “orbit elevation” phase.

It is precisely at this point that satellites activate their propellants to increase their altitude each week, to ensure that they do not suffer an orbital decay.

The Starlink project is deployed at 550 kilometers (341 miles) of altitude, an orbit considered really low. So far, SpaceX has launched 422 satellites.

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