Launch of the huge and bright BlueWalker 3 communications satellite has alarmed astronomers

(ORDO NEWS) — The recent launch of BlueWalker 3, the prototype of the BlueBird satellite constellation, raises the possibility that bright satellites will pollute our night sky.

BlueWalker 3, covering an area of ​​64 square meters, is the largest commercial communications satellite in low Earth orbit. And it’s also very bright.

Over the past few years, the pace of satellite launches has accelerated. SpaceX has sent thousands of Starlink satellites into orbit to provide internet services.

Once Starlink satellites dissipate and enter their operational orbits, they approach the limit of what can be seen with the naked eye.

However, such satellites are bright enough to leave traces on images taken with telescopes. These trails obscure stars and galaxies, and short transients such as short bursts from gamma-ray bursts can be lost.

Although Starlink is the largest satellite constellation in operation, more are planned.

Blue Origin plans to launch over 3,200 Project Kuiper satellites and AST Space Mobile plans to launch 100 BlueBird satellites.

The recently launched BlueBird prototype, BlueWalker 3, has caused genuine alarm among astronomers. Although BlueWalker 3 was initially quite weak, it deployed a 64 square meter communications array.

Its surface reflects sunlight very well, and BlueWalker 3 is now as bright as some of the brightest stars in the night sky.

A large number of satellites of this brightness can have a huge impact on professional astronomy.

In addition, many of these satellites broadcast on radio frequencies that can interfere with radio astronomy by transmitting radio waves over remote locations where radio observatories watch the skies.

What happens next is unknown. The International Astronomical Union has reported its concern about the satellite constellations, and BlueWalker 3 in particular.

However, the US Federal Communications Commission did little to consider their impact on the environment when approving satellite constellations.

The US Government Accountability Office recently flagged this as a major problem, but it’s unclear if this will lead to any change.


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