Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched 60 of its ‘Starlink’ mini-satellites into space, reigniting fears over the growing threat of ‘space junk’ in the Earth’s orbit.
One of SpaceX’s reusable ‘Falcon’ rockets was launched on Monday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying the payload, which is the second stage of the ‘Starlink’ project to send tens of thousands of transmitters into orbit. It is part of the company’s plan to create an orbiting network that provides global internet coverage.
The new set of satellites will join the 60 sent into space in May. While the launch was successful, with Mr Musk sending a tweet via the Starlink network, SpaceX came under criticism from astronomers due to how bright the satellites appeared in the night sky, forming a marching string of ‘false stars’ in the night sky.
Experts feared that the brightness and increasing number of satellites could alter our view of the night sky and have an impact on scientific research.
“I felt as if life as an astronomer and a lover of the night sky would never be the same,” James Lowenthal, an astronomer at Smith College, told The New York Times.
SpaceX has applied to the Federal Communications Commission to send as many as 30,000 satellites into orbit, leading critics to fear a logjam of satellites orbiting the Earth. Many other private companies, such as the Richard Branson backed OneWeb, are also seeking to install orbiting networks to beam internet to Earth.
Since the concerns were highlighted by astronomers in May, SpaceX has been working with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to minimise the impact of satellites on wavelengths that astronomers use. SpaceX has also said it plans to paint the Earth-facing bases of satellites black to reduce air pollution.
"Starlink is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation, meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards," the company said.
However, the prevalence of ‘space junk’ has become an increasing concern, with hundreds of thousands of man-made objects orbiting our planet.
In September, the European Space Agency narrowly avoided a collision with one of SpaceX’s satellites in a sign that the space around Earth has become significantly crowded. Several companies and agencies are setting up plans to deal with the debris.