A huge satellite is about to take off, spreading its gigantic array of antennas to potentially block astronomers’ view of the cosmos. The launch of AST SpaceMobile’s BlueWalker 3 is scheduled for Saturday to test the company’s broadband network technology, but the satellite prototype is extremely bright and could interfere with celestial observations.
BlueWalker is programmed for reach low Earth orbit aboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at 7:51 PM ET from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once in low earth orbit, the satellite will do so test the Texas-based company’s ability to directly stream Internet connectivity from space to people’s cell phones. AST SpaceMobile President and CEO Abel Avellan recently boasted on Twitter, “Made in TX: size matters!” when referring to the satellite. And indeed it does, as this bad boy sports a series of 693 square feet (64 square meters) antennas that will unfold in space. With its antenna fully deployed, the satellite should be among the brightest objects in the night sky, according to Sky and Telescope.
As it points towards Earth, the satellite’s giant matrix will reflect sunlight back onto our planet, potentially causing bright streaks on astronomical images and interfering with scientific data. Even worse is that if the test satellite is successful in its mission, the company could send more than 100 of its satellites into orbit by the end of 2024 to build a complete Internet constellation. The operational satellites, which must be called BlueBirds, could cause even more interference as they should be similar in size to BlueWalker 3.
Astronomers have expressed concern about the satellite’s brightness as it joins the hordes of commercial satellite constellations currently under construction in low Earth orbit. From the Rubin Observatory’s location on Cerro Pachon in Chile, the BlueWalker satellite will be as bright as the Vega star near zenith at dusk, according to Connie Walker, an astronomer with the National Science Foundation (NSF) NOIRLab. “These new satellites are expected to saturate Rubin’s observations,” Walker told Gizmodo in an email.
In an effort to understand the magnitude of this threat, NSF’s NOIRLab and the Center for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Sky from Interference by Satellite Constellations of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) have called on astronomers around the world to perform observations on the brightness of the satellite once in orbit. “[Low Earth orbit satellites] disproportionately affect scientific programs that require twilight observations, such as searches for Earth-threatening asteroids and comets, external Solar System objects, and visible light counterparts of fleeting gravitational wave sources “, NSF he wrote in a relationship.
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BlueWalker will be launched into space along with 60’s SpaceX’s Starlink satellites, which have already caused the interruption of astronomical observations. Elon Musk’s private space company is looking to launch 42,000 satellites into low earth orbit to build a broadband internet megaconstellation. Although SpaceX has so far received approval for 12,000 satellites from the Federal Communications Commission. But the company has entered into talks with IAU to find ways to dim their satellites so they don’t interfere with images of the cosmos.
Advancement in technology opens up an exciting era for our connectivity, so hopefully it won’t come at the expense of our ability to stare at celestial objects and collect valuable data about the universe.
Moreover: SpaceX launches the 3,000th Starlink satellite as Elon’s Internet constellation continues to grow
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