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Light pollution from SpaceX, OneWeb, and others’ satellites is making space research more difficult

Stars fill a night sky.
REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
  • Clarisa Diaz
By Clarisa Diaz

Things Reporter

Published Last updated

Astronomers predict that one out of every 15 points of light in the night sky will be a satellite within a decade. With new megaconstellations of satellites, and increasing amounts of space junk, scientists are likening the congestion to freeway traffic. Observations that could lead to more discoveries about space are being obstructed due to light and glare from the satellites, even with attempts by companies like SpaceX to dim them. Space pollution is already happening in public view, observable from Earth.

Who owns the most satellites in space?

Recent analysis by Dewesoft looked at data from the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database, ESRI, and the Space Foundation to determine who is responsible for the satellites. The US, Russia, and China have thousands of satellites in space, but so do companies with their own goals. According to the analysis, Elon Musk’s SpaceX alone is responsible for about a third of all active satellites in orbit.

The megaconstellation Musk is launching to connect the world to broadband-speed internet—Starlink—requires thousands of more satellites. OneWeb is similarly trying to provide global connectivity with its constellation. Even if the plan could give everyone access⁠—and create a more interconnected world—it also raises questions about whether one company should have so much power, and what kinds of international regulations are necessary to keep space itself accessible to everyone who studies and works in it. Projects like Starlink set a precedent for more megaconstellations to be developed that could continue to fill the sky without limit.

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