How bad would SpaceX’s Starlink constellation with 42k+ satellites be in terms of space junk and affecting astronomical observations?


To put it simply: Every professional astronomical society has statements of varying levels of condemnation on Starlink. Nearly everyone I know that does ground-based astronomy (and even a couple of astrophotographers) think the statements aren’t strong enough and want the project stopped dead/large tax placed on these swarms.

Once fully implemented, there’s essentially a 100% chance of satellites turning up in long exposures and it will be tons of added work trying to remove them (and realistically, the output will drop drastically). Optically, it’s possible to get around them (but not in the current Starlink plan) with more work/resources than professional astronomers have, but those working in non-visible light wavelengths are not so lucky. Radio astronomy will be dead as a field, SETI project dead, infrared will be a mess, exoplanet-hunting dead, asteroid detection dead.

Basically, we will be forced to use space telescopes only… Of which there are very few and the competitiveness of proposals will be through the roof. Given the high priority of space-based telescopes, there aren’t many “exploratory” type niche projects that can be carried out on low-interest targets, so we’ll be really limited about what we’re allowed to study as well. Considering most of us already work on shoestring budgets, I expect to see many people leaving the field to go become “data scientists” for consulting firms.

Don’t believe the SpaceX press releases, real astronomers are horrified at what this means for our research.