To reduce the likelihood of interference with astronomical observations, SpaceX has announced that it will test a new anti-reflective coating in a “starlink” satellite launched in late December 2019. In May 2019, the first 60 satellites of SpaceX’s “starlink” were successfully put into orbit, and the sight of the satellite “teaming up” across the night sky was recorded by cameras.
Many astronomers are concerned that the Starlink plans to launch too many satellites, and that the bright light reflected from them could affect ground-based telescope observations of the universe.
Astronomers use telescopes to capture images of distant objects for long periods of time, and when satellites that use reflective material pass through the lens view of the lens, they leave long streaks on the image, affecting normal observations.
SpaceX’s new coating experiment is a response to astronomers’ “complaints.” SpaceX’s new coating could reduce the reflection of “star chain” satellites, according to the MIT Science Review.
The new coating will be tested on one of 60 satellites launched at the end of December, Said Nemesbeh Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said at a news conference. Only one satellite was selected for testing because of the safety of the satellite’s operation, as the anti-reflective properties of the coating can cause thermal changes that adversely affect performance. Mr Shortwell said the solution would be modified on a “trial and error” basis to ensure safe operation.
It remains uncertain whether the use of the new coating will actually help astronomers. Some scholars believe that the only way to significantly reduce interference with astronomical observations is to put satellites in higher orbits. The high-orbit solution is a satellite launch strategy for SpaceX’s “starlink” rival OneWeb, but it requires higher launch costs and more powerful launchers.