Astronomie - Astronomers around the world warn massive satellite build-up could cut us off from the cosmos forever



Astronomers have warned that the exponential number of satellites being sent into orbit in the coming months risked “cutting us off from the cosmos” for good.

The prediction came a day after SpaceX, whose CEO and chief engineer is Elon Musk, launched 60 satellites at once as part of a project to send up to 42,000 into space in the coming years.

They were part of the company’s Starlink constellation of small satellites designed to provide seamless internet connections back on Earth - even in the remotest of locations.

The 60 satellites launched on Monday will add to the dozens launched in May on the first Starlink flight.

Throughout history, only about 8,000 satellites have ever been sent to space, and there are about 2,000 currently active satellites.

But SpaceX has permission from regulators to launch more than 12,000 satellites and it recently requested permission to add as many as 30,000 to that number. Mr Musk has said the project could generate $30 billion or more in revenue each year.

Philippe Zarka, an astronomer at the Paris observatory, issued a stark warning on Tuesday, telling Le Parisien that the multiplication of such satellites “risks polluting space forever.”

“Low-Earth orbit, the one near our planet, is already cluttered by numerous satellites and debris and he wants to put up to 42,000 more up there. It’s madness,” he told the newspaper.


With the light pollution and “radio fog” these are liable to create, astronomers would have been hard pushed to clinch the first-ever image of a black hole recently,” he said.

“This screen will cut us off from the cosmos.”

He is not alone in voicing such worries. The International Astronomical Union has also expressed “concern”.

SpaceX has pledged to work with experts to jointly minimise potential impacts of its satellites, moving some to higher orbits and promising to paint their Earth-facing bases black to reduce their reflectiveness.

But American astronomers are not convinced, particularly as other companies, including Amazon, Telesat and OneWeb, plan to launch similar mega-constellations.

“If there are lots and lots of bright moving objects in the sky, it tremendously complicates our job,” James Lowenthal, an astronomer at Smith College, told The New York Times. “It potentially threatens the science of astronomy itself.”

Mr Zarka said: "Space for people like Elon Musk is like a new Wild West, apparently virgin and where a lot of money can be made. But let's be careful this doesn't end up turning into a bad Western."

Quelle: The Telegraph



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