Illustration redesigned by Devin Thorpe
What’s Going On?
We’re barely two weeks into 2020 and the headlines are already insane: Trump Starts World War III! Australia’s on Fire! Baby Yoda Officially Cuter Than Overweight English Bulldogs! Now, thanks to Elon Musk and his newly launched Starlink satellites, you can add, Astronomical Emergency! to the list as well. What’s Starlink and why is it a problem? Starlink is a satellite constellation created by Elon Musk’s SpaceX program to establish an international 5G network. Sounds awesome, but could come at too high a cost: safety and scientific research. Despite warnings from astronomers about the threat networks like this pose to their field, SpaceX launched their large, reflective, radio-interfering satellites in 2019, ruining numerous professional observations.
Why We Care
SpaceX plans to launch 1,500 new satellites into orbit by the end of 2020 and 12,000 in total (for now, as they’ve submitted paperwork seeking approval for 30,000 satellites). If the whole network gets launched with no alterations or consideration for scientific observation, not only will the night sky be completely altered, we’d be floating blind in a universe teeming with unseen danger. The ability to see changes in the sky helps us predict weather patterns, make new discoveries, and alert scientists of astrological threats like asteroids/meteors (and maybe hostile aliens?) heading towards Earth. Also, there’s already thousands of pieces of space junk floating around out there. This launch would add to it considerably.
The Questions We’re Asking
When companies are expected to self-govern and provide independent oversight, but don’t…what do we do? What can we do? How do we as a global population balance corporate innovation and scientific observation and research?
“The night sky is the heritage for all humanity, and any use of the sky must respect the diversity of all cultures. Eisenhower made sure that space exploration and development would be led by civilian agencies. We now need similar visionaries to assure that the night sky is shared responsibility rather than merely exploited.”
-Professor Nicholas Suntzeff, former Vice-President of the American Astronomical Society
Featured Header Image Source: Starlink