Starlink Satellites

Starlink Satellites

Anna Wright

     When people travel, whether it’s to another country, the beach, or simply a friend’s house, there is always one question asked upon arrival: “What’s the WiFi password?” The need for constant access to the virtual world is problematic when you’re required to visit that one relative that lives in the middle of nowhere with no internet connection. To decrease the prevalence of this issue SpaceX has developed a solution, Starlink satellites. The goal of these satellites is to “deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Their current target location, Northern U.S. and Canada, has already experienced the benefits of this internet service. CNN exemplifies, “SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are being used by emergency responders in Washington to help fight fires while bringing internet access to residents in areas devastated by wildfires.” 

     With more than 800 satellites already launched, SpaceX has embarked on an ambitious project to bring internet connectivity to remote parts of the world. Starlink satellites are equipped with ion propulsion systems that allow them to navigate and maneuver through space. These come in handy when the need arises to dodge space debris and other spacecraft. When a satellite reaches the end of its lifespan, it can simply be deorbited using the propulsion system or burnt up in the atmosphere. The satellites are, additionally, more compact which allows for more to be released into space at once, and their design includes only one solar array, easing the manufacturing process.

     Despite the benefits that come with the new satellites, there has been some cause for concern, especially among the astronomy community. The forefront issue raised in the Satellite Constellations 1 Workshop report, the summary of a virtual event attended by many astronomers, was the hindered observation of space as a result of the growing number of satellites, particularly Starlink’s. Without a clear view of the night sky, scientists cannot accurately take note of “potentially hazardous near-Earth objects,” exoplanets, and neutron star mergers—otherwise known as black holes. In the report, the astronomers detailed a set of possible solutions: “1. Launch fewer or no LEOsat constellations. This is the only option identified that can achieve zero impact. 2. Deploy satellites at orbital altitudes no higher than ~600 km. 3. Darken satellites by lowering their albedo, shading reflected sunlight, or some combination thereof. 4. Control each satellite’s attitude in orbit so that it reflects less sunlight to Earth. 5. Remove or mask satellite trails and their effects in images. 6. Avoid satellite trails with the use of accurate ephemerides.” Fortunately, SpaceX is one step ahead—their satellites already orbit at around 550 kilometers in altitude. Another drawback could be the price of individual usage. The current cost of using Starlink Internet is $99 per month with an additional $499 for the small satellite dish, mounting tripod, and router. Although this number is higher than other internet carriers, Starlink internet is still in Beta testing, so this may change with an increase in users.

     With any innovation comes challenge and criticism. The controversy between Starlink and astronomers leaves space nerds at a crossroads: observation of space or advancement in space technology. Who will come out victorious in this modern-day star war?