July 29, 2021

SpaceX: Starlink satellites face new legal challenge

Granted, the chances of the case reaching the Supreme Court are relatively slim, says Sarah Bordelon, a Nevada-based environmental attorney with Holland & Hart. Supreme Court scrutiny is pretty unlikely, she says, considering that thousands of cases are submitted for review each year, only a small number of which are selected. But even if the case doesn’t reach the Supreme Court, the outcome of the appeals court could “create new NEPA laws,” says Bordelon. “It will set a precedent.” That makes it worth following the developments.

Soon there could be 65,000 satellites in orbit

A result in Viasat’s favor could be welcome news to many astronomers. It is currently believed that megaconstellations will have a major impact on their sky studies. If all of the publicly known plans for such systems are implemented – including the US, China and UK megaconstellations – there could soon be about 65,000 satellites in orbit. There are currently around 4,000.

A recent analysis by Samantha Lawler of the University of Regina at Saskatchewan and Aaron Boley of the University of British Columbia shows that this is the case “More than 2500 satellites would be visible all night during the summer”says Lawler. “I was really shocked when I saw that number. Most of the populations of North America and Europe would [künftig] see potentially more satellites than stars. I don’t want to imagine my children growing up with something like that. “

“There will be some unusable data and some things we cannot discover”
(Meredith Rawls, Astronomin)

These satellites would significantly hinder astronomical exploration of the universe: strips of them would affect the survey of the night sky and the imaging of distant stars and galaxies, which would make a certain number of observations essentially unusable. “There will be some unusable data and some things we cannot discover,” says Meredith Rawls of the University of Washington, who leads a group dealing with megaconstellations for a virtual conference called Satellite Constellations 2 (SATCON2) next Month rated. “That’s what worries me most.”

The change in the night sky would also affect cultures – with unforeseen consequences. “A good example is the Hawaiian-Polynesian tradition of finding the way,” says Aparna Venkatesan from the University of San Francisco, who investigates such possible conflicts for SATCON2. “It is a heavenly, non-instrumental navigation in which one reads wind and ocean currents, but also the stars. [Natürliche] Dawn and dusk constellations are very important. We want to make sure that [Satelliten] not with [solchen] interfere with cultural traditions. “

Efforts are being made to lessen the impact of megaconstellations on astronomy. SpaceX, which has already launched more than 1,400 Starlink satellites, is working with astronomers to reduce the number of sunlit, dazzling satellites with some success. But even if they are now almost so faint that they are no problem for large-scale examinations of the night sky, in other cases they will continue to cause distraction. “To bring them into the ‘safe’ category, they would have to be at least 100 times darker,” says Richard Green of the University of Arizona, who heads a SATCON2 group that deals with political issues relating to megaconstellations. “That goes beyond what is physically possible.”