Starlinks Can Produce Surprisingly Bright Flares to Pilots

This diagram and artist illustration demonstrates how sunlight reflects off a Starlink version 1.5 satellite. (Credit: SpaceX)

How can sunlight reflecting off SpaceX’s Starlink satellites interfere with ground-based operations? This is what a recently submitted study hopes to address as a pair of researchers investigate how Starlink satellites appear brighter—which the researchers also refer to as flaring—to observers on Earth when the Sun is at certain angles, along with discussing past incidents of how this brightness has influenced aerial operations on Earth, as well. This study holds the potential to help spacecraft manufacturers design and develop specific methods to prevent increased brightness levels, which would help alleviate confusion for observers on Earth regarding the source of the brightness and the objects in question.

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Starlink on Mars? NASA Is Paying SpaceX to Look Into the Idea

Starlink satellites in Earth orbit, under consideration for Mars
An artist's conception shows Starlink satellites in orbit. Credit: SpaceX

NASA has given the go-ahead for SpaceX to work out a plan to adapt its Starlink broadband internet satellites for use in a Martian communication network.

The idea is one of a dozen proposals that have won NASA funding for concept studies that could end up supporting the space agency’s strategy for bringing samples from Mars back to Earth for lab analysis. The proposals were submitted by nine companies — also including Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, Astrobotic, Firefly Aerospace, Impulse Space, Albedo Space and Redwire Space.

Awardees will be paid $200,000 to $300,000 for their reports, which are due in August. NASA says the studies could lead to future requests for proposals, but it’s not yet making any commitment to follow up.

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Watch a Real-Time Map of Starlinks Orbiting Earth

Image of the Starlink interactive map offered by SpaceX. (Credit: StarlinkMap.org)

In an effort to enhance the educational outreach of their Starlink constellation, there is an interactive global map of their Starlink internet satellites, which provides live coverage of every satellite in orbit around the Earth. This interactive map and information was produced by Will DePue, who is a an OpenAI programmer and openly states he is not affiliated with SpaceX or Starlink. This interactive map comes as SpaceX continues to launch Starlink satellites into orbit on a near-weekly basis with the goal of providing customers around the world with high-speed internet while specifically targeting rural regions of the globe. In 2022, Starlink officially reached all seven continents after Starlink service became available in Antarctica. Additionally, SpaceX announced in 2023 a partnership with T-Mobile for Starlink to provide mobile coverage, as well.

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Satellites Make up to 80,000 Flashing Glints Per Hour. It's a Big Problem for Astronomers

Starlink trails cut through this image of the star Albiero, in the Cygnus constellation. Credit: Rafael Schmall

Large-scale sky surveys are set to revolutionize astronomy. Observatories such as Vera Rubin and others will allow astronomers to observe how the sky changes on the scale of days, not weeks or months. They will be able to capture transient events such as supernovae in their earliest stages and will discover near-Earth asteroids we have missed in the past. At the same time, the rise of satellite constellations such as Starlink threatens to overwhelm these surveys with light pollution and could threaten their ability to succeed.

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Starlinks are Easily Detected by Radio Telescopes

Artist's impression of the 5km diameter central core of Square Kilometre Array (SKA) antennas. Credit: SPDO/TDP/DRAO/Swinburne Astronomy Productions

Radio astronomy and satellite communication have a long common history. Advances made in one field have benefitted the other, and our modern era of spacecraft and mobile internet is a product of this partnership. But there are times when the goals of radio astronomy and the goals of communication satellites are in opposition. This is most clearly seen in the development of satellite constellations such as Starlink.

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China Has Begun Launching its Own Satellite Internet Network

China launches a new satellite to test satellite internet technology at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, July 9th, 2023. Credit: CMG

Since 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX have led the charge to create high broadband satellite internet services. As of May 2023, the Starlink constellation consisted of over 4,000 satellites operating in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and roughly 1.5 million subscribers worldwide. Several competitors began launching constellations years before Starlink began, and several companies have emerged since. This includes HughesNet, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Kuiper Systems. But Starlink’s latest challenger could be its most fearsome yet: a company in China backed by the Beijing government!

On Sunday, July 9th, a prototype internet satellite was launched aboard a Long March 2C carrier rocket from China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. The satellite has since entered a predetermined orbit, where it will conduct several tests to validate the broadband satellite technology. The long-term aim of the project is to create a constellation of 13,000 satellites code-named “Guo Wang,” – which loosely translates to “state network” in Mandarin – reflecting Beijing’s vision for a state-run share of the satellite internet market.

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Astronomers Map out the Radio Waves Coming From Large Satellite Constellations

Illustration Starlink satellites over LOFAR. Credit: Daniëlle Futselaar

Satellite internet constellations such as Starlink have the potential to make connect nearly the entire world. Starlink already provides internet access to remote areas long excluded by the internet revolution, and other projects such as OneWeb and Project Kuiper are in the works. But there are side effects to creating a massive array of low-orbit satellites, and one of them is the potentially serious effect on astronomy.

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Hubble’s Orbit Has Dropped So Far that Starlink Satellites are Photobombing its Images

This composite shows some of the satellite trails polluting Hubble Space Telescope images. Image Credit: Kruk et al. 2023.

Astronomy is poised for another leap. In the next several years, major ground-based telescopes will come online, including the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT,) the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT,) the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT,) and the Vera Rubin Observatory. The combined power of these telescopes will help drive discovery in the next couple of decades.

But something threatens to undermine astronomical observing in the coming years: Starlink and other internet satellite constellations.

Now a group of astronomers have shown that even the Hubble can’t escape the satellite problem.

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Many of the World’s Greatest Observatories Suffer from Some Light Pollution

Night sky in the African country of Namibia. (Credit: Fabio Falchi; Licence Type: Attribution (CC BY 4.0))

In a recent study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, an international team of researchers examined the levels of light pollution at astronomical observatories from around the world to better understand how artificial light is impacting night sky observations in hopes of taking steps to reduce it. But how important is it to preserve the scientific productivity of astronomical observatories from the dangers of light pollution, as noted in the study’s opening statement?

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BlueWalker-3 Unfolds, Brightens One-Hundredfold

BlueWalker-3
An artist's impression of BlueWalker-3 unfolded in orbit. Credit: ASTSpaceMobile

After months of waiting, we’re getting our first good looks at a fully deployed BlueWalker-3.

A new high-profile satellite may now be visible in a sky over you. We recently wrote about AST Space Mobile’s new BlueWalker-3 satellite, and its potential to be among the brightest objects in the night sky. Launched on September 10th, 2022 an a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket along with the Starlink Group 4-2 batch, BlueWalker-3 is the first of the company’s planned mega-constellation of 110 BlueBird satellites set to be deployed by the end of 2024 for worldwide communication.

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