President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said the problem posed to astronomy observation had been an unexpected one but pledged to solve the issue. “We are going to get it done,” Shotwell said during a meeting with reporters at SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne. SpaceX has already deployed 120 low orbit satellites to begin establishing its high speed internet network, and plan on launching thousands more in the near future.
Shotwell said the next batch has one satellite “where we put a coating on the bottom.”
She noted that this is just an experiment and could not predict if it will work.
“We’re do trial and error to figure out the best way to get this done,” said Shotwell.
She insisted that the problem is being addressed: “We want to make sure we do the right thing to make sure little kids can look through their telescope” she said.
“Astronomy is one of the few things that gets little kids excited about space.”
When talking about the affect on children viewing the satellites amongst the stars she said: “it’s cool for them to see a Starlink. But they should be looking at Saturn, at the moon. .. and not want to be interrupted.”
The coating solution being applied to one of the satellites in the third batch is just the first attempt at finding a solution for the unforeseen problem.
“No one thought of this,” Ms Shotwell said. “We didn’t think of it. The astronomy community didn’t think of it.”
The experimental coating still may affect its performance, so that is something that will be examined, Ms Shotwell admitted “It definitely changes the performance of the satellite, thermally. It’ll be some trial and error but we’ll fix it.”
The Starlink project will see a constellation of high performance satellites developed at low cost provide the basis for a new space based internet communication system.
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If the project continues, as SpaceX plans, the constellation of satellites will consist of thousands of small satellites working in combination with ground receivers.
SpaceX is aiming to provide internet connectivity to more remote areas of the planet as well as more generally improve internet services in built up urban areas.
Elon Musk has even speculated the array will act as early version of the one he plans to use on SpaceX’s future Mars missions.
However, the project came under fire after the first round of satellites were launched, with some astronomers claiming it would end up “ruining the night sky”.
Clarae Martínez-Vázquez, an astronomer observing the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Coquimbo, Chile, witnessed a train of Starlink satellites crossing the skies last month, heavily affecting the camera's exposure.
Ms Martínez-Vázquez wrote on Twitter: “Wow. I am in shock.
“In shock at the huge amount of Starling satellites crossed our skies tonight.
"Our DECam exposure was heavily affected by 19 of them.
“The train of Starlink satellites lasted for over five minutes.
“Rather depressing… This is not cool!”