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SpaceX made concessions to reduce the influence of Starlink satellites on astronomy.

Published: 2023-01-13

Astronomers around the world are sounding the alarm, demanding that the authorities somehow influence the deployment of thousands of satellite constellations in low orbit. The leader in this direction is SpaceX with the Starlink service. In December, the company received permission to launch 7,500 second-generation satellites into space, in addition to the already existing more than 3,500. As it became known, SpaceX voluntarily made some concessions to astronomers, although not everyone was happy with this.

It is reported that even before obtaining a license from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to launch Starlink 2.0 satellites, SpaceX voluntarily collaborated with representatives of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) in the process of developing an agreement to reduce the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy. There are no instructions approved at the legislative level in this regard, and therefore the parties involved in the process have to work proactively and, in fact, from scratch.

NSF stressed that SpaceX, without pressure from the authorities, agreed to gradually reduce the brightness of the satellites to no higher than the 7th magnitude, which will make them invisible to the naked eye and reduce (but not eliminate) their influence on sensitive astronomical instruments. The company also agreed to turn off the transmitting signal from the satellites at the time of passage over large ground-based radio telescopes.

Moreover, the company agreed to remove its satellites from the Laser Clearinghouse database. Astronomers use this base to turn off the adaptive optics system on telescopes when spacecraft are in the field of observation. Adaptive optics allows you to adjust the telescope's mirror to eliminate the effect of air tremor, but for this it uses a laser beam to light a reference star in the sky. The laser risks damaging the satellites' optics and requires astronomers to turn them off even during scientific observations. Now scientists do not have to worry when thousands of satellites of the Starlink constellation pass overhead.

At the same time, another organization went to court to revoke the FCC license from SpaceX. This was done by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA), which happened on December 29, 2022. The association has filed an appeal of the FCC ruling with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Lawyers representing IDA astronomers argue that the FCC did not follow environmental laws when granting SpaceX permission to create the constellation.

But the main catch is that Starlink is not the only group that gives astronomers problems. For example, in September, the BlueWalker 3 satellites began to be launched into orbit, which became the brightest objects in orbit. The developer of the satellites has promised to do something to reduce light pollution from them, but so far there has been no decision on this issue, and is not expected in the near future.

But this is not the only project of its kind. Astronomers and business will once again enter into a confrontation on the basis of light pollution of the night sky. There is no doubt that business will win, and it is good that on a number of issues it is meeting scientists halfway.