The Satellite Train Bewitches Little Girl

24th Oct 2023
The Satellite Train Bewitches Little Girl

Annabel Rich, a nine-year-old enthusiast and member of the Ramsgate Stargazers, found herself in the right place at the right time. On the evening of 22nd October, during an “Observe the Moon” session at Ramsgate Boating Pool, Annabel and her mother, Belinda, were treated to a mesmerizing sight when Annabel managed to capture a remarkable image of a satellite train made up of American tech mogul Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites.

The Starlink project, a brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, aims to provide global satellite internet access. This ambitious endeavour involves deploying thousands of mass-produced satellites in Low Earth Orbit, all working with ground transceivers. The resulting strands of objects across the night sky is called a satellite train.

SpaceX launched the Starlink satellites in 2019, and the constellation has now grown to over 5,000 of these tiny marvels orbiting our planet as of August 2023. However, Musk’s plans are even more grandiose, with intentions to unleash nearly 12,000 satellites into the heavens and the possibility of further expansion to a staggering 42,000.

Satellite train problems

While the promise of widespread satellite internet connectivity is undoubtedly exciting, it’s not without its concerns, particularly from astronomers. They worry about the potential impact of the Starlink constellation on ground-based astronomy, as these additional satellites further congest an already bustling orbital environment.

These satellite trains increase the risk of a collision with other satellites as well. The problem is rising to the point that ESA, UKSA, and NASA are all putting funds into new projects to predict, mitigate, or decrease the risk. So are private companies such as Astroscale, which has created a plate for connecting to the satellite and moving it for deorbiting procedures.

Much research still needs to be done as to the effects of large satellite clusters on the near-space environment. But with the tempo of multi-satellite space launches increasing, the chance of a satellite train catching the imagination – and photo frame – of the next generation of space scientist and engineer might grow as well.

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