SpaceX’s initial launch of Starlink satellites certainly surprised many people on the ground this week. No doubt CEO Elon Musk thought the attention was great.
Last Thursday SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida that were deployed at an altitude of 440km. The small satellites then used onboard propulsion to reach an operational altitude of 550km.
This is just the beginning. The Starlink mission’s ultimate aim is to have 12,000 small satellites in low Earth orbit as part of a network providing broadband services around the world, with a special focus on internet connectivity in underserved areas.
When the first batch of 60 were released they initially formed a “train” that could be clearly seen from Earth. The following video was taken on May 26, 2019 in the UK by Youtube user, Movie Vertigo.
These satellites won’t stay in this formation as they are using their thrusters to move to their final orbits, and it seems the Starlink “train” event is now pretty much over. Contrary to rumours, the final orbits won’t position the satellites to form the word “Elon”.
While it was occurring, the train event apparently led to a spate of UFO reports from various points around the world.
It’s estimated 4,900 satellites are currently in orbit around the Earth, but only around 1,900 are operational. Approximately 500 operational satellites were in low Earth orbit last year, so the Starlink launch added more than 10% to this number in one launch.
… and there’s 11,940 to go!
12,000 more satellites added to our night skies has created concern among star-gazers that it will interfere with their activity.
Elon Musk has sought to calm the fears – but not everyone is convinced. The Starlink mission poses an interesting question – do the benefits of better broadband for more people outweigh the risk of marring our night sky? It’s a place where many have turned their eyes to observe and contemplate something that so far has been relatively free of the evidence of human activity.
Something else to bear in mind – SpaceX isn’t the only company that want to do this.
Trivia – Hundreds of thousands of man-made objects are orbiting our planet, everything from pieces less than a centimetre long to dead satellites. Even small items can do major damage to functioning satellites given the speeds this space junk is travelling at.