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SpaceX Plans Sunshades to Save Night Skies From Starlink Satellites

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.

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Can FPL or my HOA prevent me from switching to solar?

The Florida Solar Rights Act is a law that forbids any entity—including homeowner associations—from prohibiting the installation of solar or other renewable energy devices on Florida buildings.

An association may require approval of a system installation and may establish restrictions for installations. However, any such restrictions must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and applied in a uniform manner for all association members. Also, any restrictions must not have the effect of impairing the performance, or increasing the cost, of a solar system.

In particular, a homeowner association may not prevent the installation of solar collectors on the roof of a home. The association may determine where on the roof the collectors may be installed, so long as the collectors face within 45 degrees of due south.

Finally, any requirement(s) that a system be screened from view by trees, fences, ground mounting racks, or a remote roof location that is hidden from the street, will generally violate the statute.

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Is solar free for Florida homeowners?
  • The sun is free to everyone.
  • Solar panels and specific back-up battery systems qualify for a number of rebates, tax credits and incentives.
  • There is a cost associated with solar energy because you are paying for your system. 
  • Financing enables homeowners to make the transition with $0 upfront costs
  • Systems often cost the same amount monthly as your current FPL bill
  • Solar puts equity in your home because you own the system and increases the value a minimum of 4.1% - click here for the Zillow case study

Does solar increase my home value?

Not only can adding solar panels to a home save energy costs and help the environment, it also can potentially increase a home’s value. In 2019 Zillow found that homes with solar energy systems sold for 4.1% more on average than comparable homes without solar power. For the median-valued home, that translates to an additional $9,274.

The sale premium varies substantially by market. In Riverside, Calif., for example, homes with solar-energy systems sold for 2.7% more than comparable homes without solar power—a markup of $9,926 for the median-valued home in the metro. In the greater New York City metro, solar-powered homes have a premium that is double that of Riverside. At 5.4%, that’s an extra $23,989 in value for the typical home in New York. In three other coastal metro areas—Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orlando, Fla.—homes with solar power can fetch a premium of around 4%.

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