A group of astronomers is campaigning to put satellite constellations like Starlink on the United Nations agenda before sky-viewing restrictions become too severe. The American scientific magazine Nature reports, quoting Piero Benvenuti, former secretary general of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Along with others, he has already succeeded in putting the subject on the agenda of a subcommittee of the Committee for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), and the whole committee must now discuss it. . The goal is a common idea of how unregulated space can be used fairly.
Tens of thousands of satellites planned
Space companies like SpaceX and OneWeb, which have already started building global satellite networks for Internet access, are responsible for the concerns of the astronomical community. SpaceX in particular is setting a huge pace and has already launched over 1,700 satellites for Starlink. Other mega constellations have been announced. The fear is therefore growing that astronomy, but also the simple observation of the sky, will be altered by the rapid increase in the number of satellites in low orbit. Especially when the satellites have not yet reached their final position, some of them are clearly visible in the sky and even experts have been surprised by their brightness. Not only the IAU, but also the European Southern Observatory ESO, have warned of the consequences.
Benvenuti assures Nature that the debates in United Nations bodies do not aim to pit astronomers against satellite operators. Rather, it is about reaching a consensus on the use of space that takes into account all interests. Because even if companies like SpaceX adhere to guidelines – self-imposed – to minimize the visibility of satellites, they will be visible to observatories and some giant telescopes planned could be significantly limited in their work. At the same time, there are no binding guidelines globally on the extent to which satellites are allowed to alter the night sky. Even the UN does not have the power to issue such rules, but nations can agree on common rules.
Benvenuti and the others are now hoping the topic will be discussed at the next meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space starting August 25, and they stress the urgency, Nature writes. While a set of international rules probably won’t become a reality for years to come, even in the best of circumstances, SpaceX continues to expand its constellation at high speed.
This is another reason why the research community is also relying on technical solutions, such as databases of satellite orbits, in order to be able to avoid affected regions of the sky. In addition, software is being developed in order to be able to remove the traces of the satellites from the recordings. Others, meanwhile, have tried to include the views of indigenous communities who have deep cultural ties to the dark skies, which are also affected by satellites.
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