SpaceX to update Starlink satellites over astronomer ire

Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is going to test a new Starlink satellite with a specialized anti-reflective coating that won’t interfere with the night sky. This revised spacecraft will be one out of a batch of 60, according to a report from Space News.

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SpaceX’s President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell confirmed the update in a press call on Friday.

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“We want to make sure we do the right thing to make sure little kids can look through their telescope. Astronomy is one of the few things that gets little kids excited about space,” she said.

The ambitious space company has already deployed 120 satellites that are dedicated to delivering high-speed internet. However, the satellites’ shiny surface had unforeseen consequences. By its first launch in May, astronomers and space enthusiasts noted that the brightness exuded from the manmade constellation interrupted views of the planets and stars.

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With SpaceX receiving the green light to launch up 12,000 Starlink spacecrafts in Earth’s low orbit by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, and the company’s pending paperwork for 30,000 additional vessels with the International Telecommunication Union – experts are concerned with how SpaceX will impact astronomy in the next few years.

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Shotwell admitted that the SpaceX team hadn’t anticipated the problem when the Starlink satellites were first designed.

In her own words, “No one thought of this. We didn’t think of it. The astronomy community didn’t think of it.”

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Although SpaceX did not intend for this to happen, the team is looking to remedy the issue, which is how the anti-reflective coating test came into play. The coating will be applied to the bottom of the single test satellite.

“We’re [doing] trial and error to figure out the best way to get this done,” Shotwell explained while also noting that SpaceX can’t predict whether the experiment will be a success.

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The 60 satellites that are set to launch in late December is the third batch SpaceX will be working with. The company is planning to launch batches of 60 satellites every two to three weeks over the next year to significantly grow the Starlink constellation by mid-2020.