An astronomer captured SpaceX’s recently-launched Starlink satellites on video

Earlier this week, SpaceX successfully launched its first 60 Starlink satellites into orbit around the Earth. An amateur astronomer in the Netherlands caught sight of them orbiting Earth after deployment, and captured the scene on video.

Astronomer Dr. Marco Langbroek noted on his blog that he calculated where the satellites would be orbiting, and waited with his camera. The result is a spectacular one: a string of bright dots flying across the sky, prompting some people to report that they saw UFOs.

Langbroek shot the video with a “WATEC 902H low-light-level surveillance camera, equipped with a Canon FD 1.8/50 mm lens,” and counted at least 56 distinct objects. He noted that the “train” will make 2-3 passes each night, and will eventually spread out into their destination orbits.

The satellites are part of SpaceX’s more ambitious projects: a massive fleet of satellites orbiting between 340 and 208 miles up that will provide internet connectivity around the Earth. SpaceX’s launch earlier this week is the first of many that will eventually launch nearly 12,000 units into orbit in the coming years.

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A side affect I hadn’t considered.

Musk has got us looking to the stars again with vigour but maybe making it harder to appreciate the night sky with this plan.

The satellites won’t be visible with naked eye.

Yeah, but with all that internet.

Tonight I just saw them. I’m from Spain. And I’m 99% Sure that they were the starlink sats. I was using n2yo website to track them. I was in the country side so no light pollution. I didn’t had a telescope but I have a trained eye I recommend everyone to try to see them before they completely separate (now is easier to spot them, maybe imposible un the future ‍♂️) I really love this

I tried looking for them on the 25th and didn’t see anything. It’s kind of bright in my area though.

Yay! We can watch Skynet being born in real time.

Better start working on that cardio.

12,000???

Talk about space junk. You’ll need to check 100 different flight paths before you launch a rocket or risk collision.

I see it differently. There are literally billions of cars (well, 1.5 billion-ish) in the world, most of them highly concentrated in specific spots on a surface that’s probably 40% smaller than the theoretical surface area of low earth orbit. Even if you shot a falcon 9 sized vehicle into the ground at one of the denser locations (say a medium density suburb), the chances of actually hitting a car would be pretty low (but not acceptably low to risk your valuable space cargo).

Now imagine there are only one-tenth as many cars (still 150,000,000), so you basically remove 9 out of 10 cars from every location. The chances of hitting one gets even smaller (imagine there’s now only one 8m2 surface area target for every 5 or 6 suburban housing lots, based on roughly 1.8 vehicles per home in the more affluent districts). Now distribute the cars evenly instead of having them heavily concentrated – even distribution across all those fields, oceans and deserts. The chances of hitting a car become vanishingly small.

Now reduce it again by a tenth, 15 million cars, and again by a tenth, 1.5 million cars, and you really have a micro-minimal risk of hitting something, even accounting for the fact that satellites tend to have flight paths that coincide with more populous locations.

This obviously only applies to your launch scenario, but even when you have all these satellites criss-crossing the sky multiple times a day, because you introduce an extra dimension (altitude), even tens of millions of satellites would probably still be an incredibly sparse population with minimal collision risk.

This isn’t to negate the issue of actual space junk, which seems to involve many millions of small but dangerous particles that are mostly untrackable and whose relative velocity versus a satellite make a collision highly undesirable (because of the damage, and because you create more space junk). It’s just to say that 12,000 well managed satellites all properly tracked and parked well away from optimal trajectories for getting into space (which I think are basically all close to the equator) are probably pretty irrelevant to launch logistics.

These satellites are in low Earth orbit, with propulsion which can bring them down at the end of their 5 year service life. Even if the satellite and propulsion fail atmospheric drag will bring them down in shot order, the lowest ones in under a year.

OTOH, SpaceX is already talking about turning the StarLink bus (chassis) into an automatic space debris removal satellite.

Since they are in low orbit, they will fall down and burn, there will barely be any space debris

I did the math. At their orbital altitude of 550km/241mi, the area of the orbit is 601,789,416 km^2 or 232,352,192.66 mi^2. Each satellite is the size of an office desk which, essentially, will be occupying, alone, an area the size of either South Carolina or Czech Republic. Yeah, there are a lot of items in space, but the overall size of space, even in near earth orbit, is massive. We remained concerned, to a degree, about space junk because the consequences of a strike are so catastrophic- especially for a manned craft- but when looking at items in designated and intentional orbits, the chances are quite low. Chances are a bit worse for actual space junk- pieces of old spacecraft bounced out of original orbit- which is why we track anything large enough to track.

The satellites are about 3 × 10 meters with the solar array extended, much larger than an office desk although the cross-section in the direction of travel is the only relevant size and that is probably a bit smaller. If you look at them edge-on they are less than 1 m^2 in area.

Yeah they already have a plan, no need to worry. SpaceX are not amateurs.

Do these StarLink Sats have the ability to adjust their placement in the orbit? They don’t look like they got spaced out very well.

Yes they do.

He noted that the "train" will make 2-3 passes each night, and will eventually spread out into their destination orbits.

Their speed and altitude isn’t sufficient to keep them stably in orbit either, so their thrusters are also designed to boost their altitude when needed.

Has the electromagnetic radiation effects, that the Star Link’s 12,000 satellites will produce, been studied?

Certainly… you can’t operate a radio transmitter in the US, or launch one to space from the US, without getting approval from the FCC.

Yup. These will be using parts of the Ka, Ku and V bands.

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