TAMPA, Florida – Evidence is mounting that an environmental review needs to be done before SpaceX plans to add nearly 30,000 satellites to its Starlink constellation, satellite broadband competitor Viasat told the FCC on May 2.
SpaceX should not be allowed to significantly expand its Starlink network as the light pollution problems surrounding its deployed satellites remain unsolved, Jarrett Taubman, Viasat’s vice president and deputy head of government affairs, said in a letter to the regulator.
While asking for an in-depth environmental analysis that Viasat has carried out for the current generation of Starlink satellites December 2020 have been largely dismissed, Taubman said SpaceX’s plan to grow the constellation sevenfold “would have significant aesthetic, scientific, social, cultural and health effects on the human environment on Earth.”
SpaceX has already been distributed more than half of the 4,408 first-generation Starlink satellites that the FCC has approved to operate at altitudes of approximately 550 kilometers. The company is asking for FCC permission for a wider second generation Starlink constellation which proposes to operate at lower altitudes, between 340 and 614 kilometers, in order to improve performance.
Viasat and the astronomers say that using significantly more satellites even closer to Earth exacerbates Starlink’s light pollution.
In rejecting Viasat’s previous petition to conduct a thorough environmental review on Starlink, the FCC urged SpaceX to continue working closely with astronomers to mitigate the brightness of its satellites.
SpaceX said it is integrated visors on Starlink satellites to prevent sunlight from reflecting on them and implementing other measures to reduce interference with astronomers.
But in a May 2 letter to the FCC, Taubman said these efforts “did not completely mitigate” the constellation’s light pollution problem.
He said “there is growing evidence, including independent expert analysis, of the ongoing and growing negative impact of Starlink operations on the night sky despite such efforts.”
The letter indicated an article published by astronomers in Astronomy of nature in Aprilwhich claimed that none of the techniques Starlink and other LEO constellations are exploring can completely avoid that “they harm astronomical science … launching significantly fewer satellites is the only mitigation that could do that.”
In a letter dated February 8 to the FCC, NASA said SpaceX’s proposed Gen 2 network could double the number of Hubble Space Telescope images that contain satellite streaks, currently 8% of all images, and undermine the ability of the United States to detect and potentially redirect asteroids headed for Earth.
“NASA estimates that there would be a Starlink in every single asteroid survey image taken for planetary defense against dangerous asteroid impacts, decreasing the effectiveness of the asteroid survey by rendering portions of the images unusable,” the agency said. space in a letter signed by Samantha Fonder, NASA’s representative to the Inter-agency Group for transportation in commercial spaces.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
Of the 17 Falcon missions 9 so far this year, 10 have been for Starlink. They alone have launched nearly 500 satellites for the constellation, according to statistics run by analyst and astronomer Jonathan McDowell.
The next batch of Starlink satellites is expected to launch on May 5th.