In 5 years, Elon Musk has opened up the entire Earth with Starlink satellites to gain access to the Internet from places where regular cellular communications do not work.

Starlink services are currently available in 47 countries, and the project is largely considered a success.

But there’s one problem: the Starlink satellite fleet is interfering with astronomical observations. This is stated in the method published in the scientific journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Short description

  • Why Starlink bothers scientists
    What is affected by electromagnetic radiation from a satellite?
    How serious is this problem?
    How scientists and SpaceX collaborate

Why Starlink bothers scientists

Countless objects in space emit different forms of light across the electromagnetic spectrum. Throughout space, electromagnetic waves act like ripples in water. Distant galaxies, bright nebulae and radio bursts from planets all emit forms of electromagnetic radiation that scientists can pick up with radio telescopes to get a complete picture of what we can’t see with our own eyes.

Astrophysicists from the Netherlands observed 68 SpaceX satellites using the LOFAR telescope in the north of the country. It is currently the most sensitive radio telescope in the world. During the study, scientists discovered unintentional electromagnetic radiation emanating from the satellite’s onboard electronics.

LOFAR radio telescope

47 of 68 SpaceX satellites measured radiation in the range from 110 to 188 MHz. This range encroaches on the protected frequency band of 150.05 and 153 MHz allocated by the International Telecommunication Union.

According to study author Federico Di Vruno, this radiation alone does not affect the telescope in any way. Its strength can be compared to a working observer.

The complexity of the design when radiation comes simultaneously from a large number of satellites.. So far this problem is not very serious, but, firstly, it already exists. Secondly, scientists are confident that with a smaller satellite magnification, its relevance will increase.

The interesting thing is that SpaceX didn’t break any rules because there are currently no rules to protect ground-based radio telescopes from radio interference.

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What is affected by electromagnetic radiation from a satellite?

To better understand the severity of the problem, Di Vruno suggests having someone suddenly light a torch in front of you while you are in a dark room. You will go blind for a second. Much the same thing happens with telescopes.

If there is RF noise interference in your stream, you will simply turn on. If you have an hour-long observation and only have 10 minutes left, then it is simply a lost observation.

Yvette Sendes, radio astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

in other words, greater radiation from a large number of satellites, making any study useless.

The study authors have already been contacted by SpaceX to discuss ways to combat radio interference.

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How serious is this problem?

A visual demonstration of how the number of Starlink satellites has changed

There are now more than 4,000 Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit. The company plans to put 42 thousand satellites into orbit. And that’s just SpaceX.

There are other companies that deal with satellite Internet. For example, OneWeb. But she has far fewer companions and less ambitious plans.

We must be prepared and understand what can be said in the event of the launch of these extremely large constellations and what their consequences will be.

Federico Di Vruno, author of the study

All satellites orbiting the Earth send and receive radio signals from the planet. Radio astronomers have struggled with this excess “noise” throughout history.

They can minimize signals in research, track the location of satellites and monitor them during scientific work. But every year it becomes more difficult to do this due to the rapid growth of the satellite.

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How scientists and SpaceX collaborate

SpaceX needs to do a better job of working with scientists to ensure that Starlink satellites don’t have too much of an impact on scientific research.

Scientists believe that Starlink could use frequency bands that have less impact on the frequent frequencies of radio telescopes. Starlink could also design antennas to take into account the impact on radio telescopes and take measures to reduce interference.

The company has already begun to implement the scientists. So, in 2023, SpaceX entered into an agreement with the US National Standard Foundation and agreed to refine the signals from the Starlink satellite in the range from 10.6 to 10.7 GHz so as not to wake up the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the Green Bank Observatory.

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Source: Iphones RU

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I am a professional journalist and content creator with extensive experience writing for news websites. I currently work as an author at Gadget Onus, where I specialize in covering hot news topics. My written pieces have been published on some of the biggest media outlets around the world, including The Guardian and BBC News.


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