It is called Bluewalker 3, and it may change the night sky for years to come. Launched in September 2022 aboard a SpaceX rocket, the Bluewalker3 prototype communications satellite from AST SpaceMobile spread its 693 square feet antenna array in low-Earth orbit. It has now become as bright as the brightest stars in the evening sky. And more of these satellites will soon be launched – 168 of them.
Needless to say, astronomers on the ground are perturbed. As noted in Science, astronomer Meredith Rawls of the University of Washington, Seattle, stated, “It’ll show up as a superbright streak in images and potentially saturate camera detectors at observatories.”
That is not to say it will be the brightest man-made object in the night sky. The International Space Station wins that battle being about 40 times brighter than the Bluewalker3, but there is only one ISS versus the 168 Bluewalker satellites being planned.
But wait, there’s more. The Bluewalker satellites direct-to-mobile cell service will also impact radio astronomers.
All of this has astronomers up in arms, leading to complaints against the use of such satellites. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is monitoring the matter.
As reported by NBC News, the FCC is also placing new restrictions on satellites at the end of their mission life, but this will not help with all of the new satellites going up today that will be crowding the night sky for many years to come.
If this continues, we may need that planned lunar base as a telescope collection point, at least until the objects orbiting the Moon become a problem.