SpaceX To Test Starlink ‘Sun Visor’ To Reduce Brightness Of Satellite
Elon Musk has announced SpaceX will test a ‘sun visor’ on its Starklink satellites in an effort to reduce their brightness.
The people of Earth pointed out the issue last week, when a member of the public tweeted CEO Musk to ask why the satellites had been ‘brighter and more noticeable lately’.
Musk responded to say the brightness was down to the angle of the satellites’ solar panels ‘during orbit raise/park’, and added the company was already working on a fix.
While the brightness might not bother the average person, astronomers have expressed concerns the Starlink constellation could interfere with their observations and damage the data collected, Science News reports.
In a recent briefing to a committee working on the next astrophysics decadal survey, Musk outlined the plans of ‘VisorSat’, which should, in theory, block the sunlight from the satellites’ antennas and therefore prevent reflection.
Along with a new approach for orientating Starlink satellites as they raise their orbits, Musk hopes VisorSat will address concerns raised by astronomers.
The CEO commented:
Our objectives, generally, are to make the satellites invisible to the naked eye within a week, and to minimise the impact on astronomy, especially so that we do not saturate observatory detectors and inhibit discoveries.
In the simplest terms, the visor will work in a similar way to those found on the windscreen of a car.
We have a radio-transparent foam that will deploy nearly upon the satellite being released, and it blocks the sun from reaching the antennas.
They’re sun visors, essentially: they flip out and block the sun and prevent reflections.
The company plan to test VisorSat on the company’s next Starlink launch, though it’s unclear yet when that will be. So far this year, SpaceX has performed Starlink launches at least once a month.
It’s a bit of a challenge, but that’s our goal.
As well as adding visors, SpaceX plans to reduce brightness with an ‘orientation roll’, which will change the alignment of the satellites’ solar panels and reduce the amount of sunlight they reflect.
SpaceX will try the ‘orientation roll’ as soon as this week, as Musk explained:
Early indications are this will have a significant effect on the brightness during orbit raise. The satellites will be significantly less visible from the ground.
The plans won’t affect existing Starlink satellites, but Musk estimates the initial generation of satellites will be de-orbited in around three to four years to make way for improved versions.
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