‘Growing Evidence’ Shows Need for Environmental Review of Starlink Gen 2, Says Viasat

TAMPA, Fla. — Evidence is mounting that environmental review is needed before approving SpaceX’s plans to add nearly 30,000 satellites to its Starlink constellation, satellite broadband competitor Viasat said. to the FCC on May 2.

SpaceX should not be allowed to significantly expand its Starlink network while light pollution issues surrounding its deployed satellites remain unresolved, Jarrett Taubman, Viasat vice president and deputy chief government affairs officer, said in a letter to the regulator.

While calls for a thorough environmental review that Viasat has done for Starlink’s current generation of satellites in December 2020 were widely dismissed, Taubman said SpaceX’s plan to expand the constellation sevenfold “would have significant aesthetic, scientific, social, cultural and health effects on the human environment on Earth.”

SpaceX has already deployed more than half of the 4,408 first-generation Starlink satellites that the FCC has approved to operate at altitudes of approximately 550 kilometers. The company is seek authorization from the FCC for a larger constellation of second-generation Starlinks that it proposes to operate at lower altitudes — between 340 and 614 kilometers — to improve performance.

Viasat and astronomers say operating many more satellites even closer to Earth would make Starlink’s light pollution worse.

In denying Viasat’s earlier request for a full environmental review of Starlink, the FCC urged SpaceX to continue to work closely with astronomers to dim the brightness of its satellites.

SpaceX said it was incorporating visors on Starlink satellites to prevent sunlight from reflecting on them and implement other measures to reduce interference with astronomers.

But in the May 2 letter to the FCC, Taubman said those efforts “have not fully alleviated” the constellation’s light pollution problem.

He said “there is growing evidence – including independent expert analysis – of the ongoing and growing negative impact of Starlink operations on the night sky, despite these efforts.”

The letter pointed to an article by astronomers published in Nature Astronomy in Aprilwho said that none of the techniques explored by Starlink and other LEO constellations can completely avoid them “harming astronomical science…launching far fewer satellites is the only mitigation that could do that”.

In a letter dated February 8 to the FCC, NASA said SpaceX’s proposed Gen 2 array could double the number of Hubble Space Telescope images containing satellite footage, currently 8% of all images, and undermine the United States’ ability to detect and potentially redirect asteroids heading towards Earth.

“NASA estimates that there would be a Starlink in every asteroid survey image taken for planetary defense against dangerous asteroid impacts, diminishing the effectiveness of asteroid surveying by rendering portions of images unusable” , the space agency said in a letter signed by NASA representative Samantha Fonder. to the Interagency Panel on Commercial Space Transportation.

SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.

Of the 17 Falcon 9 missions so far this year, 10 have been for Starlink. They alone have launched nearly 500 satellites for the constellation, according to the statistics maintained by spaceflight analyst and astronomer Jonathan McDowell.

The next batch of Starlink satellites are scheduled to launch on May 5.

James C. Tibbs