You’ll see the sky crawling”: Astronomers fear that satellites will crowd out stars
The term ‘space pollution’ is being increasingly used by astronomers as human interest and hence activity outside of the planet has risen. This piece in the Vox highlights that this is set to rise exponentially in future as Elon Musk and others launch a myriad satellites in their endeavour to deliver internet from the sky. The numbers are staggering: “Soon, Earth may be blanketed by tens of thousands of satellites, and they’ll greatly outnumber the approximately 9,000 stars that are visible to an unaided human eye. This is not some distant threat. It’s already happening. [Elon Musk’s] SpaceX has already put 180 of these small satellites, collectively called Starlink, in the sky. Sixty were launched Monday. That will be followed by more launches, possibly every two weeks. In all, the company has approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 12,000 satellites, and Musk is seeking approval to launch 30,000 more. SpaceX’s goal is for Starlink satellites to form into a constellation that will provide internet access, for a price, to remote areas of Earth.
…And it’s hardly the only company in this market. OneWeb, a UK-based company that also wants to beam internet access from space, is seeking to launch 650 satellites, beginning this January. Amazon wants to launch 3,200 satellites, in a constellation called Kuiper, also with the goal of selling internet access. In the near future, there could be 50,000 or more small satellites encircling the Earth, and for purposes other than delivering internet. These new satellites are small, mass-produced, and orbit very closely to the Earth to ensure the internet connection they provide is speedy. But that closeness also makes them more visible, and brighter in the night sky. “Satellites launched by SpaceX and others will be brighter than 99 percent of the population of objects of all types currently in Earth orbit,”
…There are a lot of other potential concerns about so many satellites in the sky. One is space debris. When a satellite breaks down in space, it just stays up there as junk until gravity pulls it back down to Earth. Already, several Starlink satellites have stopped functioning and are just hanging out up there as debris, where they present a hazard for colliding with other objects in space…. “If you’re going to put up 10,000, or 20,000 or 30,000 satellites, you automatically, instantly intentionally have hundreds of pieces of debris right off the bat,”