How many satellites can you fit in orbit around the Earth? How many different types of missions can they perform? It’s a question being posed by billionaires and government officials who want to build satellite mega-constellations, and it’s one that a group of astronomers at an academic conference recently stood up to in defense of the science community’s role in space.
What is satellite mega-constellations?
The two biggest companies looking to launch mega-constellations are SpaceX and OneWeb. The Elon Musk company wants about 4,425 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in order to provide high-speed broadband access for everyone on Earth; as of May 2018, it had filed FCC paperwork for several thousand satellites but not yet sought permission. OneWeb has also filed an application with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting permission for its constellation of 2,956 LEO satellites. That request is currently under review by a team inside FCC.
Do astronomers use satellites ?
All astronomers want their research to be as accurate as possible, and that means studying every source of light that can interfere with measurements. This includes both human-made satellites, which flash across night skies with alarming regularity, and natural objects such as meteors, auroras and orbiting debris. Over time our knowledge of artificial satellites has improved – at least enough so we don’t have any more UFO reports from professional astronomers. But there’s still plenty of room for improvement, especially now that private companies are starting to launch constellations of hundreds or even thousands of their own satellites.
What are satellite constellations used for ?
As of 2017, there are 439 satellites orbiting earth. A constellation of satellites is a group of similar earth-orbiting artificial satellites which are launched into space and organized in a pattern (or constellation) for practical reasons, such as usage requirements or military purposes. If you want to know what sort of activities these satellite constellations use them for, read further: The following are some examples of satellite constellations used for by NASA and other organizations.
Why astronomers stand up to satellite mega-constellations ?
It is thought that these mega-constellations will launch thousands of satellites into space, which can cause more than just an interruption in your favorite show. For example, when one of these satellites accidentally strays from its orbit and enters our atmosphere at a high speed, it creates a fireball which rains down on Earth as debris. That’s a lot of junk floating around in orbit if you ask me. The problem with miniaturizing electronics is that it’s easier for them to fail; if one fails we could have thousands more in our atmosphere causing all sorts of problems. Although there is a lot of funding behind satellite constellations, they are not worth risking the future safety of us all.