Back in the 70s, kids used to look up at the summer sky and try to be the first one to shout, “Satellite!” That seems like a relic from the past now, alongside Polaroid cameras and astronauts on the Moon. These days, it’s rare to spend any amount of time looking at the sky without seeing a satellite, or several of them.
A new satellite is emphasizing that fact. It’s a prototype communications satellite with a roughly 700-square-foot antenna, and it’s brighter than most stars.
In the coming years, a number of next-generation observatories and arrays will become operational. These facilities will make major contributions to multiple fields of astronomy: exploring the mysteries of the early Universe, studying gravitational waves, determining the role of dark matter and dark energy in cosmic evolution, and directly image “Earth-like” exoplanets.
Unfortunately, this revolutionary development in astronomy may be going up against another major project: the creation of mega-constellations. Because of this, the SKA Organization (SKAO) – which oversees the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – is insisting that corrective measures be taken so satellites won’t interfere with its radio observations once it’s operational.
Picture the space around Earth filled with tens of thousands of communications satellites. That scenario is slowly coming into being, and it has astronomers concerned. Now a group of astronomers have written a paper outlining their detailed concerns, and how all of these satellites could have a severe, negative impact on ground-based astronomy.
SpaceX has been garnering all the headlines when it comes to satellite constellations. Their Starlink system will eventually have thousands of tiny satellites working together to provide internet access, though only 242 of them have been deployed so far. But now another company is getting on the action: OneWeb.