SpaceX launched 57 new satellites in its latest push to get its Starlink cluster up and running. The company plans to start beta trials of its Internet service served by the satellites later this summer. There has been controversy surrounding the Starlink satellites, particularly with them being much brighter than anyone anticipated.
Astronomers and scientists worldwide have complained the SpaceX satellites could make astronomical observations more difficult from Earth. SpaceX has been trying various methods to reduce the brightness of the satellites, including coatings. The latest satellites are dubbed “VisorSat” variety and are designed to be less reflective. They are specifically designed to be less visible by telescopes from the ground.
The VisorSat variety of Starlink satellites featuring visor that will deploy after launch and block sunlight from reflecting off the surfaces of the satellite. Astronomers say that while the visors are likely to make the satellites less bright, they won’t stop the satellites from interfering with astronomy. Eventually, SpaceX intends to have tens of thousands of the Starlink satellites in orbit to provide global broadband Internet coverage.
What astronomers fear is that as they look for very distant dim objects, the satellites SpaceX is placing in orbit could foul the data by turning up as false stars. According to astronomer Jonathan McDowell, it will only take a couple of seconds for the satellite to cross the telescope’s field of view. They use extremely long exposures with their cameras, in that couple of seconds the entire 10 to 15 minute exposure can be ruined.
Scientists fear that the satellites will particularly impact telescopes observing close to the horizon near dawn. Those exposures are said to be particularly important to discovering asteroids flying close to the Earth. So far, SpaceX has 600 satellites in orbit and has permission to launch nearly 12,000 satellites, it wants to put 42,000 satellites in orbit eventually.