During the 2021 Code Conference this week journalist Kara Swisher had a 1-hour discussion with SpaceX founder Elon Musk about a wide-range of subjects. Swisher briefly discussed SpaceX’s Starlink division that aims to provide satellite internet service globally. The broadband constellation could have up to 30,000 internet-beaming satellites that will be capable of providing high-speed internet everywhere, including the most remote regions on the planet.
SpaceX’s Starlink plan has received criticism from the astronomy community that claims the satellites could interfere with their astronomical observations. The company has launched nearly 1,800 satellites to orbit, most operate in low Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 550-kilometers. To reach that operational altitude the satellites use Krypton-powered ion thrusters to move. As they navigate from a lower to a higher altitude, the satellites could be visible at night from Earth. To make the satellites less visible from the ground during their rising trajectory, SpaceX added a deployable visor to the satellites which acts like a sunshade to cover the most reflective parts of the satellite from the sun’s rays while they move into their operational orbit. Musk previously said that the visor is “made of a special dark foam that’s extremely radio transparent, so as not to affect the phased array antennas,” and that it “looks a lot like a car sun visor.”
Swisher asked about the potential for the satellite constellation to interfere with astronomical observations, mentioning that “astronomers get mad” at Starlink. “With the respect of the astronomers, we are in constant dialog with the leading astronomers in the world… to ensure that our satellites do not interfere with their telescopes,” Musk told Swisher. He shared that the company is taking the necessary measures to ensure the satellites do not cause too much interference with ground-based space observatories, “including the most sensitive telescopes,” he said. “Maybe a few sort of amateur astronomers are unhappy, but the professional ones are satisfied that we are taking reasonable steps to ensure that we are not standing in the way of science,” he added.
“We are also looking at launching some new telescopes using Starship,” he said at the conference, “Because Starship is a much bigger vehicle, we can launch satellites that have 10 times the resolution of the Hubble [Space Telescope] which would be great for science.” Musk said. He also shared that he talked with University of California Berkeley Astronomer Saul Perlmutter on a space telescope project that would utilize the Starship spacecraft to host astronomy research instruments. “[…] I think at the end of the day, Starship and SpaceX do a lot to advance our understanding of astrophysics and astronomy,” Musk said.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX