Environmental law applies to Starlink ‘constellation,’ law student says

Space Science
Alyn Wallace Starlink

Photographer Alyn Wallace uses an app to help in tracking the path of Starlink satellites. (Alyn Wallace / YouTube)

MYSTERY WIRE — How important is it to be able to look into the heavens and see the stars? How important is it to have better bandwidth on the Internet.

The questions could be more related than you know.

At odds: Astronomers, and Elon Musk. More precisely, efforts by Musk and others to send thousands of new satellites up to provide Internet service. The satellites are visible, and they can interfere with astronomers’ attempts to observe the skies.

If that’s the future of the night sky … if there’s going to be thousands of those things up there for the sake of Internet … oh, man. I feel sick. I literally feel sick.

Alyn Wallace, photographer

Photographer Alyn Wallace, who makes the argument against the satellites in the video above, isn’t alone in his feelings about the issue.

But Scientific American reports that a legal challenge could very well end the satellite parade. The Federal Communications Commission sidestepped the entire issue years ago, essentially declaring that space wasn’t a place where we needed to worry about environmental impact.

Since 1986, the FCC has had a “categorical exclusion” that frees the agency from assessing the effect its decisions might have — including the impact of satellites on the night sky. But there was no such thing as a satellite “constellation” in 1986.

A paper by a second-year law student Ramon J. Ryan at Vanderbilt University challenges the status quo, asserting that the FCC absolutely should review the impact of the decision to license Musk’s Starlink project for 12,000 — and eventually a total of 30,000 — satellites.

Starlink is already controlling more satellites than any other single entity, with a plan to send 1,500 satellites up in 2020.

The battle for “dark skies” in a world where ambient light is growing along with the population has long been seen as astronomers’ biggest concern.

But Wallace’s prayer, “We’ve just got to hope that these commercial companies have a sense of empathy and they look to maintain our window to the universe and look after the night sky,” could have some teeth after all when it comes to satellites.

Still, that empathy might be there. On Jan. 6, an experiment was included in the mission to launch Starlink satellites:

On this flight, SpaceX is also testing an experimental darkening treatment on one satellite to further reduce the albedo of the body of the satellites.

Media kit from SpaceX

No word yet on the success or failure of that method.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Space Science Video

The Latest

More The Latest

Latest Mystery Wire News