One hundred years ago, when the world was just recuperating from the damage caused by the first world war, humanity could have never guessed what the future had in store for us. Over the years, not only did we manage to get out of Earth and land on other celestial bodies (only the Moon so far, alas), we also started sending our own creations to roam the skies. However, some astronomers are of the view, that we might have gone a little too far, and worry that Amazon’s constellation of 3,236 satellites (along with others) might just bring forth unwanted complications in the future.
While it is clear that we cannot just stop exploring the unending space, astronomers worry that the increasing number of satellites in Earth’s orbit, along with the lack of a regulatory body, will make the study of the night sky more difficult. This is because these satellites reflect light, and produce an effect known as ‘photobombing’, appearing as streaks of lights which makes the study of other objects relatively harder. SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, which already consists of almost 600 satellites (with the 10th launch having taken place just a few days back), is already becoming a bother for these observers.
Similar concerns were raised when SpaceX began operationalising its Starlink satellite internet constellation. The Elon Musk led company has tried to solve the problem of satellite photobombing by employing non-reflective coating and a sunshade, but so far, no concrete solution has been devised.
Now, with another 3,236 satellites, which have been planned for Amazon’s Kuiper constellation will make things even worse. This is especially worrying, because this constellation will double the number of satellites in orbit today, and some (about 600 more).
Amazon says that “reflectivity is a key consideration in our design and development process,” but it’s unclear if even the richest man in the world will be able to solve this problem by the time the Kuiper constellation starts its construction.
However, astronomers are not calling for a ban on these progressive missions. Instead, they oblige that a regulatory body be set up, that can produce “good corporate citizenship on the part of all of these enthusiastic companies that want to launch, and we don’t have any regulatory setup in place that’s providing clear guidelines back to the industry,” said Michele Bannister, planetary astronomer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand to the New York Times.
Astronomers are calling for national regulators to step in and make sure that round-based astronomy can survive this new trend. However, it is unclear if their demands will be taken seriously.