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Elon Musk wants to conquer the sky with 42,000 Starlink satellites— here’s what it means

Elon Musk has grabbed the headlines for claiming UFOs and aliens exist—but for thousands of people around the world who have witnessed Musk’s Starlink satellites soaring across the night sky, he might as well be referring to himself.

Starlink is an ambitious project to establish a network of satellites that can provide high-speed Internet service to all parts of the globe. There are currently more than 1,600 satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Starlink has immediate benefits. It offers Internet connectivity to remote parts of the planet, which could prove life-changing for 50% of people who do not have it. Starlink’s 90,000. Subscribers and 500,000-strong Waiting List seem to agree.

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, California on December 18, 2018. - Musk explained that the snail moves 14 times faster than a tunnel-digging machine. On Tuesday night December 18, 2018, Boring Co. officially opened the Hawthorne tunnel, a preview of Elon Musk's larger vision to ease L.A. traffic. (Photo by Robyn Beck / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)
SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk wants to take over the skies and offer superfast broadband

But with the service leaving its ‘beta’ test phase next month and SpaceX planning to put a further 40,000 spacecraft in the sky, scientists and astronomers are beginning to worry about the potentially devastating consequences it could have for life on Earth.

Starlink satellites orbit in a much smaller range than other satellites, which allows them to provide fast Internet speeds. They orbit between 200 and 400 miles above the Earth’s surface. While satellites can orbit as far as 2000 miles away, they orbit within a radius of about 200 to 400 miles.

Starlink satellites orbit much closer to Earth than other satellites—meaning they look very bright in the night sky
Starlink satellites orbit much closer to Earth than other satellites—meaning they look very bright in the night sky

This means Starlink satellites are bright—really bright. They reflect sunlight so brightly that they appear like stars and planets in the night sky. SpaceX has attempted to dimm the brightness by using DarkSat, which is a dark material that can be seen from Earth. This can greatly interfere with the type of telescopes scientists rely upon.

Starlink has drawn criticism from astronomers across the globe. Astronomers rely on clear skies to find new stars, planets, asteroids, and potentially even larger ones that might be headed for Earth.

A group of international astronomers has called for legal action in order to stop Starlink’s roll-out until the risks have been fully assessed. “The harm here is damage to our cultural heritage, the night sky, and monetary damages due to the loss of radio and other types of astronomy,” the astronomers said in a 2020 open letter.

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA - APRIL 27, 2020: 60 of the Starlink Internet communication satellites of Elon Musk's SpaceX private spaceflight company seen in the night sky. On April 22, 2020, SpaceX successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit on the Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
Astronomers are up in arms about Starlink ruining their view

Another major risk is that of collisions. Starlink satellites could collide with each other and cause thousands of pieces to fall into Earth’s orbit.

Without a way of removing it, that debris could then disable other satellites and cause them to crash into even more satellites, leading to what is called ‘Kessler syndrome’—in which space becomes too dangerous for anyone to access. This is what Pixar’s “Wall-E” depicted as the danger posed by space junk.

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX's Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay as seen from the countryside some 185 km north of Montevideo near Capilla del Sauce, Florida Department, on February 7, 2021. (Photo by Mariana SUAREZ / AFP) (Photo by MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Mega-constellations of satellites could pose some enormous risks to Earth, including detecting asteroids

SpaceX claims to have designed a solution for this, namely, an AI-powered anti-collision feature on the satellites that moves them away from potential impacts. Many of SpaceX’s satellites have been disabled and are not yet returned to Earth.

Musk’s company isn’t the only one that faces risks. A whole range of other companies—including Amazon—are clawing to get their own satellite networks in orbit, which could lead to hundreds of thousands of satellites penning us in. The human race may have to decide soon whether “Internet for everyone” is worth the cost of space for none.

Elon Musk wants to conquer the sky with 42,000 Starlink satellites— here's what it means
Anurag Reddy
I'm a 29-year-old travel enthusiast, travel and nature photographer, Computer Science graduate, and Mass Communication student. I have seen different shades of life through traveling and lived different lives through reading. With every word I write, I travel within, and I understand myself better. Writing helps me discover myself, and that paved roads for me to choose writing as a profession.


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