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Scientists Confirm Radiation Leakage from SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites

The proliferation of satellite constellations surrounding Earth’s orbit is causing a disturbance in the wavelength bands designated for radio astronomy. This unintended radiation, distinct from regular communication signals, has the potential to disrupt astronomical research. While concerns have been raised about Starlink constellations and their impact on astrophotography, a recent study published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics reveals another complication: the “unintended” radiation emitted by the satellites’ onboard electronics. Scientists Confirm Radiation Leakage from SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites.

The study emphasizes the need for regulations to safeguard radio astronomy from such unintentional radiation and acknowledges SpaceX’s collaboration in mitigation efforts. The electronics on SpaceX’s Starlink satellites are emitting low-frequency radio waves that extend beyond their allocated downlink bands. Consequently, telescopes designed to scan this frequency range inadvertently pick up these waves, which are also crucial for deep space observations.

Unintended Radiation Emission from SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Confirmed by Scientists

While hobbyist and some professional astronomers can employ software techniques to mitigate these effects, the study highlights the broader implications for radio astronomy. Engineer Federico Di Vruno, from the SKA Observatory and the International Astronomical Union, emphasizes that this research contributes to the ongoing understanding of satellite constellations’ impact on radio astronomy.

Scientists Confirm Radiation Leakage from SpaceX's Starlink Satellites

Scientists from renowned research institutions, including the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, employed the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope to observe 68 of SpaceX’s satellites. They detected the “unintended” radiation from nearly 50 Starlink satellites and anticipate similar findings from satellite constellations operated by other companies, not just SpaceX.

Study Reveals Radiation Leakage from SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites, Scientists Confirm

Satellite trails have already affected certain research areas, such as the search for potentially hazardous asteroids. The authors of the study confirm that the “unintended electromagnetic radiation” emanates from the satellites’ onboard electronics, a phenomenon observed using the LOFAR telescope, which is primarily designed to capture extremely faint signals emitted by cosmic objects. While Starlink has pledged to reduce optical brightness in future satellite generations, challenges persist, particularly in the radio frequency range. As Earth’s skies become increasingly crowded, the impact of satellites on our study of space raises significant concerns.

The detected radiation differs from communication transmissions, which have been the primary focus for radio astronomers thus far. Co-author Cees Bassa, an astronomer from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON), explains that the LOFAR telescope identified radiation between 110 and 188 MHz from 47 out of the 68 observed satellites.

Radiation Leakage from SpaceX’s Starlink Satellites Validated by Scientific Study

Starlink satellites rely on high-frequency radio communication between themselves and ground antennas. Currently, SpaceX has approximately 4,365 small internet satellites in Earth’s orbit, with plans for thousands more. The study urges satellite operators and regulatory bodies to consider the impact on radio astronomy during spacecraft development and regulatory processes.

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