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The night sky is getting busier! We’ve seen the International Space Station, the Hubble Space Telescope, Iridium Flares and hundreds of other types of satellites in orbit around Earth.

Starlink Satellites are the next generation of technology to be sent into orbit around our planet.

There’s a difference with these though! Rather than being just one or two satellites, the Starlink Satellite program is made up of tens of thousands of objects that will orbit Earth.

Will they be of benefit to us here on Earth or are they just going to clutter the dark night sky? What does it mean for the person on the street? Does it mean more for us here in Australia than if we lived somewhere else?

First… what are Starlink Satellites?

The Starlink Satellite program is the brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX organisation. SpaceX has been expanding into the Space Industry for some years now. In 2020, SpaceX may very well be the company that launches the most rockets ever in a year. You may have also heard of the Tesla car that SpaceX sent into space.

The new Starlink Satellite program is a set of what will be tens of thousands of satellites orbiting Earth to provide affordable broadband internet to almost everyone on the planet. There might be as many as 42,000 launched into space.

There have been many sightings of the first satellites launched. They appear to move like a train of satellites across the night sky.

Here are the pros and cons of Starlink Satellites and how they affect your view of the night sky:

Starlink

Pros:

Starlink Satellites will provide affordable broadband internet to almost everyone on Earth. People who live in remote and difficult to access places will have the opportunity to connect to the internet for the first time. The profit from the Starlink Satellite program will fund the construction of "SpaceShip", which will possibly be the first rocket and spacecraft to open up the solar system and get us to Mars. Profits will also fund cheaper launches for scientific research satellites. SpaceX has already reduced satellite launch costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Internet connection will be cheaper for people in remote areas because there won’t be any need to build expensive infrastructure on the ground to provide a service.

If the satellites go defunct or when they come to the end of their life, they have an onboard propulsion system to quickly de-orbit themselves to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

SpaceX says they are listening to concerns from astronomers and observers of the night sky from around the world. They are experimenting with reducing the reflectivity of the satellites.

The trails of Starlink Satellites certainly create a spectacle in the night sky. They encourage people to look up at the night sky. This could lead to more interest in astronomy around the world.

Falcon 9 Launch
Starlink Satellites are launched off the back of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets

Cons:

Internet will only be available in Canada and Northern USA in 2020. Everyone else will have to wait until 2021. Even then there will be some who may miss out on coverage.

The Starlink Satellites will increase a few issues experienced by astronomers. At dusk and dawn, the sunlight reflecting off all satellites is picked up by ground-based optical telescopes that are taking images of the night sky. This will especially affect telescopes that are taking widefield images. However, having said that, the satellites will have a low altitude and won't reflect the Sun's light during the majority of the night. They will be in Earth's shadow.

Satellite trails in images taken by research telescopes need to be removed so the data collected is "clean". Software to do this already exists. There may be the need to increase the computing time to remove any additional satellite trails.

Astrophotographers who want to access a pristine dark night sky at dusk and dawn, when all satellites are reflecting the Sun's light, will find it increasingly difficult to take an image without a satellite trail in the picture.

There is lots to think about in this controversial topic and there will probably be more pros and cons to come.

HAVE YOU SEEN THE STARLINK SATELLITES?

Astrotourism WA keeps an eye out for the Starlink Satellites. It’s difficult to predict when they will pass overhead. Keep a watch out!

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