Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and SpaceX came to an agreement to “mitigate potential interference” from its Starlink satellites. These satellites have been impacting ground-based radio, optical, and infrared astronomy facilities.
Basically, SpaceX agreed to continue working on recommendations and best practices from the scientific community, ensure the second generation of Starlink satellites are darker and less intrusive in the night sky, continue to assist with studies on the satellites impact on astronomy facilities, and improve overall coordination with these scientific facilities.
It is a tall order, but any company pumping thousands of satellites into the night sky should have some responsibilities to others using that same sky. SpaceX is just the first of many companies with big plans for the night sky, so maybe this will set a precedent for the satellites that follow, or at least the U.S. satellites. I am note sure we can do anything about the Chinese and others, but the United Nations cans certainly create similar standards at the international level.
In the agreement, the NSF stated:
NSF and SpaceX have collaborated from the beginning on how best to meet the goals of protecting astronomy while also providing maximum internet access for communities across the United States. The mitigation steps taken can and should serve as a model for coordination among satellite operators and the astronomy community within the United States and beyond.
Let’s hope the NSF is right.