SpaceX has agreed to minimize the impact of its Starlink broadband satellites on astronomical facilities on the ground.
NSF has outlined a new deal it signed with SpaceX to protect terrestrial astronomy including the brightness of Starlink satellites, compete for the use of radio bands, and seek to make sure Starlink’s orbital information is publicly available to the public. Astronomers can schedule observations around satellite locations.
Even since Elon Musk’s space company started sending Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), astronomers have worried that the growing number of devices will hinder the their ground-based telescopes’ view of the galaxy.
Astronomers are also predicting that they will have to compete with commercial constellations that total 400,000 LEO satellites by 2030, instead of SpaceX’s current 3,500 Gen1 Starlink constellation. FCC in December Authorizes SpaceX to launch 7,500 Gen2 Starlink satellitesmuch less than the 29,000 Gen2 Starlink constellations that SpaceX is aiming for.
SpaceX’s second-generation satellites include mitigations, such as dielectric mirror films, solar array mitigation, black paint to minimize brightness and light, as well as best practices. for flight operations, NSF noted.
Astronomers will also no longer be bothered by Starlink satellites passing through an area observed by astronomical lasers. The US Space Command’s laser clearing house is responsible for ensuring assets in orbit are not damaged by lasers. In the past, laser astronomers will need to coordinate with the Laser Toilet, but they won’t need to anymore after SpaceX studies the effects of astronomical lasers on Starlink .
“The change means that adaptive optical lasers at ground-based facilities will no longer be shut down every time SpaceX satellites pass near an observed sky.” NSF’s NOIRLab said in a statement. SpaceX is working with NOIRLab to develop best practices.
To assist with radio astronomy, SpaceX has agreed to coordinate with affected US radio astronomy facilities. Under the 2019 agreement, SpaceX worked to minimize potential interference from Starlink transmissions to the 10.6 GHz to 10.7 GHz radio astronomy band. New coordination includes avoiding main beam illumination during observations at radio astronomy facilities, including Very Large Array (VLA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), Green Bank Observatory (GBO), Arecibo Observatory (AO) and Very Long Geodetic Base Interferometer Stations (VLBI).
NSF’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has begun a test program to test the impact of SpaceX user terminals located near the VLA.
SpaceX has committed to minimizing Starlink’s impact on remote radio astronomy in the polar regions as it provides connectivity in those regions.
“We are setting the stage for a successful partnership between commercial and public efforts, allowing significant scientific research to flourish alongside satellite communications,” said NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan. .