SpaceX to Coat Satellite With Non-Reflective Substance to Dull Brightness

SpaceX has been working with the American Astronomical Society for six months to figure out a solution.
Donna Fuscaldo

SpaceX's Starlink satellites are creating constellations of artificial stars in the sky, which astronomers worry will interfere with their data calculations and pollute the night sky. 

In an effort to rectify it, SpaceX has been working with the American Astronomical Society for the past six months to come up with a solution.


Non-reflective coating will be used on one satellite 

One such solution will be tested on 6 January when a batch of 60 satellites are launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Flordia. The launch was originally slated for the 3 January but poor weather conditions prompted the date change. One of the satellites in the batch will have a non-reflective coating on the bottom. 

"Despite all the complexities of how our community makes O/IR observations, we are working to see if we can develop a brightness level for them to aim at, and we are conducting a survey of research observatories to gather this information," wrote the American Astronomical Society in a early December update of its efforts with Tesla. 

"The goal of Starlink is to provide worldwide internet service, an aspiration we do not want to impede, but this requires one to two orders of magnitude more low Earth-orbiting satellites (LEOs) than currently exist. We do not want to give up access to optical observations from the ground. Our group’s task is to find a path forward that accommodates both uses of the sky."

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Astronomers surprised by the brightness of SpaceX satellites 

The satellites are necessary in order for SpaceX to realize its goal of providing Internet to the world. They have to be close enough to the planet and there needs to be thousands to provide the Internet to the remote corners of the world. To date, SpaceX is allowed to launch 12,000 satellites.

While its hard to see the satellites in the sky without telescopes, with instruments they are bright enough to get in the way of data calculations.  “What caught everybody off guard was just how bright the initial launch was. It was pretty dramatic,” said Jeffrey Hall, the director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona told the Oriental Sentinel.  

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