We're entombing the Earth in an impenetrable shell of dead satellites

finance.yahoo.com
7 min read
fairly difficult
A recent study suggests that there is now nowhere on Earth free from the light pollution produced by overhead debris and satellites. Researchers expect that ...
Sputnik's successful launch in 1957 marked a milestone in human history as the first time a man-made object had ever orbited the Earth. But little we understood of the space-based SNAFU we were courting with the advent of satellite technology. In the 64 years since, our planet's night skies have become increasingly congested. Today more than 3,000 satellites circle the Earth and they are joined by millions of pieces of space debris — such as bits of broken satellite, discarded rocket parts and flecks of spacecraft paint. NASA estimates that there's around 6,000 tonnes of debris in Low Earth Orbit alone.

This orbital refuse doesn't just create navigation hazards for astronauts, it also reflects sunlight down to the surface, interfering with ground-based telescope observations. A study recently accepted by Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters suggests that there is now nowhere on Earth free from the light pollution produced by overhead debris and satellites. Even more concerning, researchers expect the amount of debris in orbit to increase by an order of magnitude over the next decade as mega-constellations of internet-beaming mini-satellites, like SpaceX's Starlink program, take off.

"Astronomers – and casual viewers of the night sky – must expect a future in which the low Earth orbit population includes tens of thousands of relatively large satellites," Jonathan McDowell at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics warned in a 2020 study. "The impacts will be significant for certain types of observation, certain observatories and at certain times of year."

Until a couple years ago, humanity had launched fewer than 10,000 objects into orbit since the start of the Space Age. However, with the advent of low-cost commercial rocket launch technology — which has seen the price per pound of launching cargo fall from $24,800 during the Shuttle era to just $1,240 today — the rate at which we put satellites into orbit is set to increase…
Andrew Tarantola
Read full article