Night sky pollution: Little legal recourse for astronomers concerned about Starlink

Little legal recourse for astronomers concerned about Starlink

EXCERPT: Despite complaints by individual astronomers and astronomical organizations, legal experts say there is little they can do under existing federal law and regulations to halt the deployment of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. [...] currently in the United States there are no regulations that apply to the appearance of satellites in the night sky, beyond a prohibition in federal law against “obtrusive space advertising,” defined as “advertising in outer space that is capable of being recognized by a human being on the surface of the Earth without the aid of a telescope or other technological device.” Simply being able to see a satellite from the ground, legal experts say, does not qualify as obtrusive space advertising.

The Starlink satellites are licensed by the FCC, and their launches on Falcon 9 rockets are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. Neither licensing process explicitly includes a consideration of the impact of satellites on the night sky. Michael Listner of Space Law and Policy Solutions said in a June 3 interview that the only legal recourse for astronomers would be to file a case in federal court, including seeking a temporary injunction to block future launches. He was skeptical, though, that such a case would be successful, since damages to astronomers from constellations like Starlink are only “speculative” at this time.

Others noted that astronomers missed opportunities to comment earlier, such as when the FCC was considering SpaceX’s original application for the Starlink constellation or its more recent modification seeking approval to operate some satellites at a lower altitude. The public docket for that application, on the FCC’s website, primarily consists of letters and petitions from other satellite operators concerned about radiofrequency interference.

[...] SpaceX executives said they’re aware of concerns by astronomers about the effects Starlink satellites could have on their observations. ... Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, said ... that the company was still trying to understand what causes the satellites to often appear bright while “working on ways to make that less severe,” according to one attendee. (MORE - details) ... RELATED: Does Starlink Pose a Space Debris Threat? An Expert Answers

Why astronomers are worried that SpaceX’s satellite network will pollute the night sky

EXCERPT: Over the weekend, astronomers and space enthusiasts everywhere caught a glimpse of SpaceX’s recently launched Starlink satellites in the sky. They’re the first 60 spacecraft of nearly 12,000 the company plans to launch for its massive “internet from space” initiative. For many on the internet, it was an amazing sight to see. For the astronomy community, it was devastating to watch [...] “It’s going to become increasingly likely that the satellites will pass through the field of view and essentially contaminate your view of the Universe,” Darren Baskill, an outreach officer of physics and astronomy at the University of Sussex, tells The Verge. “And it’s going to be really difficult to remove that contamination away from our observations.”

Satellites are already an issue for astronomers studying celestial objects in deep space. In order to get detailed images of objects many light-years away from Earth, astronomers take long-exposure shots of the sky with their telescopes. This type of imaging entails leaving the telescope exposed to light for minutes or hours. As a result, scientists can gather light from a very distant, faint object and figure out more about it. For instance, it’s a great way to learn what kinds of gases are in a faraway galaxy. Each type of gas emits different types of light, which astronomers can detect and identify.

[...] The problem is there is very little public data on how such giant constellations could pollute the night sky with light. There’s been a lot of discussion about how these mega constellations will potentially run into each other, causing debris that could pose a danger to other satellites in the sky. But the discussion of light pollution exploded over the weekend after amateur astronomers released footage of the Starlink satellites, showing them to be much brighter than people imagined. “There are plenty of us in the community that were aware of this concern, but until people saw with their own eyes this freight train of satellites, it didn’t really jump into the public consciousness,” Mary Knapp, a research scientist studying exoplanets at MIT Haystack Observatory, tells The Verge. (MORE - details)

Users browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)