Video: SpaceX Starlink Mission Live Streamed on Apr 22, 2020
SpaceX, the private rocket company founded by Elon Musk, announced changes last week to a constellation of tens of thousands of internet satellites it plans to send to orbit. The alterations could prevent these false stars from polluting our views of the heavens and interfering with the science of astronomy — though issues remain for scientists to contend with.
When SpaceX launched the first batch of its Starlink orbiters one year ago, it caused an outcry among astronomers. Each satellite reflects light from the sun down to Earth — making them bright enough to give the sky a massive face-lift, particularly if the company receives permission to send forth as many as 42,000 of them to provide high-speed connectivity to customers all over the world.
As SpaceX has launched hundreds of satellites over the past year, its engineers have worked with two groups of astronomers to darken the satellites. Although scientists cannot yet say whether these methods will be fully effective, they remain hopeful that this will make them invisible to the naked eye and greatly reduce their impacts on astronomical observatories.
Now, SpaceX will tweak the orientation of the satellites as they fly toward higher orbits. By making the solar panels edge-on relative to Earth, each orbiter will reflect much less sunlight back toward the ground after their initial deployment, when they are brightest. Additionally, they will deploy a shield — similar to a patio umbrella or a car sun visor — which will block the light from hitting the highly reflective antennas in the first place.
SpaceX is targeting Wednesday, April 22 at 3:30 p.m. EDT, or 19:30 p.m. UTC, for its seventh launch of Starlink satellites. Falcon 9 will lift off from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A backup opportunity is available on Thursday, April 23 at 3:15 p.m. EDT, or 19:15 UTC. Falcon 9’s first stage previously supported Crew Dragon’s first flight to the International Space Station, launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission, and the fourth Starlink mission. Following stage separation, SpaceX will land Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which will be stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. Falcon 9’s fairing previously supported the AMOS-17 mission.