(ORDO NEWS) — Evidence is mounting that an environmental review is required before approving SpaceX’s plans to add nearly 30,000 satellites to its Starlink constellation, satellite broadband rival Viasat said May 2 at the FCC.
SpaceX cannot be allowed to significantly expand its Starlink network while light pollution issues around deployed satellites remain unresolved, Jarrett Taubman, Viasat’s vice president and deputy head of government affairs, said in a letter to the regulator.
Although calls for a thorough environmental review that Viasat made in December 2020 for the current generation of Starlink satellites were largely dismissed, Taubman said that SpaceX’s plan to increase the constellation by seven times “would have significant aesthetic, scientific, socio-cultural benefits.” and medical impact on the human environment on Earth”.
SpaceX has already deployed more than half of the 4,408 first-generation Starlink satellites that the FCC has cleared for use at an altitude of about 550 km. The company is seeking FCC approval for a larger constellation of second-generation Starlink satellites, which it proposes to operate at lower altitudes – between 340 and 614 kilometers – to improve performance.
Viasat and astronomers argue that operating significantly more satellites even closer to Earth will exacerbate Starlink’s light pollution.
In rejecting Viasat’s earlier petition to conduct a thorough environmental review of Starlink, the FCC urged SpaceX to continue to work closely with astronomers to reduce the brightness of its satellites.
SpaceX said it is installing hoods on Starlink satellites to prevent sunlight from reflecting off them and taking other measures to reduce interference with astronomers.
But in a letter to the FCC dated May 2, Taubman said the effort has “not completely mitigated” the constellation’s light pollution problem.
According to him, “there is growing evidence – including analysis by independent experts – of the adverse, ongoing and increasing impact of Starlink operations on the night sky, despite any such efforts.”
The letter points to an article by astronomers published in the journal Nature Astronomy in April, which said that none of the methods being studied by Starlink and other constellations in LEO can completely avoid “harming astronomical science… Launching significantly fewer satellites is the only means that can do this.”
In a Feb. 8 letter to the FCC, NASA said that SpaceX’s proposed 2nd generation network could double the number of Hubble Space Telescope images containing satellite bands, currently 8% of all images, and undermine the US ability to detect and potentially redirect asteroids heading towards Earth.
NASA estimates that Starlink will be present in every image taken to protect the planet from dangerous asteroid impacts, which will reduce the effectiveness of the asteroid imagery, rendering some of the images unusable,” the space agency said in a letter signed by Samantha Fonder, NASA spokesperson in Interagency Commercial Space Transportation
Group SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
Of the 17 Falcon 9 launches this year, 10 were for Starlink. According to statistics maintained by space flight analyst and astronomer Jonathan McDowell, about 500 satellites for this constellation were launched with their help alone.
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