Starlink Satellites Startle Australians, Upset Astronomers

A string of Starlink satellites appearing in the early morning sky has again created some buzz, this time in Australia.

Reddit user rdub001 posted a great photo of the event, which occurred around 5.15am on Tuesday morning.

Starlink satellite train - Australia

SpaceX's Starlink has been busy setting up a satellite network that it says will provide broadband services around the world. Currently the service is in beta, with equipment setup costs of around $700 in Australia (where available), plus an added $100 handling and shipping charge. The service fee is $139 a month and includes uncapped data for now. Speeds aren't guaranteed at this point and Starlink warns there may be times when there is no service at all. Also not guaranteed is unlimited data past this beta phase.

Additionally, Starlink reportedly can only provide service to "low and remote density areas" under conditions of its initial 5-year licence in Australia. Added to all that are concerns about whether the dish needed to use the service will stand up to Australia's harsh conditions.

Basically, as the old saying goes, "you pays your money and you takes your chance" at this stage.

But Starlink could prove to be a good option for those in remote areas of Australia as an alternative to the NBN Sky Muster service. At the very least, it should get the Sky Muster team thinking more about improvements - a little bit of competition can be a great motivator.

Starlink isn't the only competition for the NBN as elsewhere in Australia, various NBN alternatives are already available. For example, Melbourne-headquartered Lightning Broadband has been using its own tried and tested fibre and fixed wireless technology to deliver rock-solid connectivity boasting speeds of up to 1,000Mbps and unlimited data on all plans since 2016.

But back to the Starlink satellites - SpaceX’s initial deployment in May 2019 freaked out a bunch of folks. Since 2019, more than 1,200 of the devices have been put into orbit, with plans for thousands more to join them - and then thousands more again to replace them as they reach the end of their service lives.

An (assumed) accidental by-product of the Starlink "train" formation spectacle - which occurs as the satellites prepare to use their thrusters to move to their final orbits -  is it creates a lot of chatter. But it's not all positive.

Some have expressed concern about the potential for space debris issues. There have also been complaints from the astronomy community that the satellites are interfering with their observations and "photobombing" some of their imagery. StarLink has taken some steps to try and turn down their brightness, but judging by this week's event and ongoing complaints, the company still has some work to do.

Posted: 14 Apr 2021

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