A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Monday evening, Jan. 6, 2020, as viewed in a time exposure from KARS Park on Merritt Island. (Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP)

SpaceX launches 60 more satellites, trying to tone them down

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted into a cold, clear night sky, recycled by SpaceX for its fourth flight

SpaceX launched 60 more mini internet satellites late Monday, this time testing a dark coating to appease stargazers.

It’s a “first step” compromise between SpaceX and astronomers fearful of having dark skies spoiled by hundreds and, eventually, thousands of bright satellites circling overhead.

The Falcon 9 rocket blasted into a cold, clear night sky, recycled by SpaceX for its fourth flight. As the first-stage booster flew to a vertical landing on an ocean platform, the Starlink satellites continued hurtling toward orbit to join 120 similar spacecraft launched last year.

Flight controllers applauded, and the launch commentator described the booster’s fourth touchdown as “awesome.” An hour later, all 60 satellites were free of their upper stage and making their own way in orbit. “It’s a beautiful sight,” the commentator observed.

His Starlink fleet now numbering 180, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk plans to ultimately launch thousands of these compact flat-panel satellites to provide global internet service. Each spacecraft is just 575 pounds (260 kilograms).

After the first Starlink batch of 60 was launched in May and the second in November, astronomers complained how the bright satellite chain was hampering their observations. In response, SpaceX came up with a darkening treatment to lessen reflectivity. The coating is being tested on one of the newly launched satellites.

Jeff Hall, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, said the Starlinks have been just an occasional problem — so far — but noted the risk to stargazing will grow as the constellation expands and other companies launch their own fleets. He heads the American Astronomical Society’s committee on light pollution, space debris, and radio interference, and is working with SpaceX on the issue. The matter is on the agenda, in fact, at the society’s conference in Hawaii this week.

“Anything that darkens the satellites is a step in the right direction,” Hall said in an email Monday. He said it’s too soon to know whether the dark coating will work, “but it definitely is just a first step and not enough to mitigate the issues astronomy will experience with the Starlinks.”

READ MORE: SpaceX launches mega rocket, lands all 3 boosters

The Starlinks are initially placed in a relatively low orbit of 180 miles (290 kilometeters), easily visible as a long, strung-out cluster parading through the night sky. Over a few months, krypton-powered thrusters raise the satellites to a 340-mile (550-kilometre) orbit.

The higher the orbit, the less visible the satellites are from the ground, according to SpaceX. Even so, SpaceX said it’s supplying astronomy groups with the satellite co-ordinates in advance, so they can avoid the bright flyover times.

Already established in launching satellites for others and making space station deliveries for NASA, SpaceX is among several companies looking to provide high-speed, reliable internet service around the world, especially in places where it’s hard to get or too expensive. Others include Jeff Bezos’ Amazon and OneWeb.

SpaceX may start service later this year in the northern U.S. and Canada, then expand to the world’s most populated areas after 24 launches.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: No more international flights at Kelowna International Airport

All international flights at YLW have been suspended, airport to operate just nine flights a day

Reality TV show about bodybuilders still filming in West Kelowna amid COVID-19

Five bodybuilders from across the country flew to Kelowna to move into a house for a reality TV show

‘Share the road’: More cyclists hitting Kelowna streets amid COVID-19 pandemic

Increased bicycle, pedestrian traffic due to shifting seasons and social distancing

Unemployment up, Kelowna loses 2,000 jobs in March: StatCan

March unemployment rate 5.9 per cent, highest in Kelowna since January 2018

Peachland residents living in lockdown in central Philippines

Kevin and Gracelyn Bennett have been in the Philippines since December

COVID-19 death toll reaches 50 in B.C., while daily case count steadies

B.C. records 34 new cases in the province, bringing total active confirmed cases to 462

Public warned to stay away from algae bloom near Herald Park in Shuswap Lake

Interior Health states that people, pets should not drink the water in the area or touch the algae

B.C. unveils $5M for mental health supports during the COVID-19 pandemic

Will include virtual clinics and resources for British Columbians, including front-line workers

South Shuswap residents criticize upgrades to Balmoral Road/Highway 1 intersection

Reliance on frontage roads and narrow underpasses near Blind Bay not good enough

B.C.’s COVID-19 rent supplement starts taking applications

$300 to $500 to landlords for April, May and June if eligible

B.C.’s top doctor details prescription for safe long weekend

Yes, it includes hosting an online cooking show

BC SPCA seeks help for abandoned German shepherd puppies

Donations have ‘petered out’ as doors are closed due to COVID-19

Serious assault leaves Osoyoos woman in critical condition: RCMP

A 60-year-old Osoyoos woman suffers life threatening injuries following assault inside home

COVID-19: Vernon pet grooming store closed temporarily after symptoms shown

Wet Spot Grooming and Pet Care to announce return Easter Monday

Most Read