26 August 2021

Impacts of Large Satellite Constellations on Astronomy: Live Updates

Kelsie Krafton

Kelsie Krafton US Department of Energy

String of Pearls: A train of SpaceX Starlink satellites is seen in the night sky in this still from a video captured by satellite tracker Marco Langbroek in Leiden, the Netherlands on May 24, 2019, just one day after SpaceX launched its first 60-satellite batch of Starlink internet communications satellites into orbit. If you have questions about the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy, AAS's Public Policy Department (AASPPD) will be publishing updates on this page from now on. Many of our efforts are done in collaboration with the IAU as part of an AAS/IAU Satellite Constellation Working Group (SCWG). 

Updates from the AAS

August 2021:

  • AASPPD participated in the Space Generation discussions of satellite constellations. 

July 2021:

  • The SATCON2 workshop takes place 12-16 July. AASPPD is on the Policy Working Group, which is divided into U.S., International, and Industry subgroups. AAS advertised the workshop and press conference. AASPPD submits a letter to NASA urging caution with future LED satellite projects following the publicity around LightCube. AAS PPD recommended that the Senate authorizers adopt the same amendment regarding satcons that the House authorizers did for NSF's reauthorization. 

June 2021: 

  • AAS's Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP) and Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference, Space Debris (LPRISD) co-hosted a town hall at the AAS 238 summer meeting on "Astro2020 Advocacy, Satellite Constellations, and More!" AASPPD worked with House Science committee staff to get some language on satellite constellations into the House NSF reauthorization and an amendment by Congressman Byer (VA) was added during full committee markup. AASPPD sent a thank you letter to the Congressman and committee thanking them for the amendment. The SATCON2 working groups begin meeting and AAS advertises the workshop registration.  

May 2021:

  • The SATCON2 Workshop is announced and accepting applications to join the working groups. 

April 2021:

  • AASPD and the International Astronomical Union's U.S. National Committee (USNC/IAU) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of State urging them to endorse the Dark and Quiet Skies Conference Room Paper (CRP) moving forward at the April United Nations (U.N.) sub-committee meeting. SCWG members presented on satellite constellations to the National Academies' Board on Physics and Astronomy (NAS BPA). AASPPD discussed options for authorizing NSF to address satellite constellations with Congressional staffers. 

January 2021:

  • AASPD wrote a reply to the Visasat FCC comment on a Starlink filing, thanking Viasat for calling attention to the impacts of satellite constellations on astronomy and correcting some mistakes in their filing. The SCWG hosted a special session at the AAS 237 winter meeting on "Astronomy and Satellite Constellations" with a panel that included astronomers, SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon. AASPPD reached out to engineering societies to collaborate on awareness raising. 

December 2020:

  • The AASPPD wrote letters to the incoming Biden-Harris transition team, and included a section on the need to preserve our dark and quiet skies. Members of the SCWG present at the ASP meeting on satellite constellations. 

November 2020:

  • Members of the SCWG contributed to a Nature Astronomy paper on satellite constellations which was published on 6 November as part of a special edition on small satellites (see publications for more articles). AASPPD met with the Biden transition team member for the NSF and raised the issue of the threat to ground based observing posed by satellite constellations. 

October 2020: 

  • The SCWG participated in the Dark and Quiet Skies Workshop. The workshop was divided into Working Groups on the sub-disciplines of optical astronomy, radio astronomy, dark sky places, light effects on the bio-environment, and the impact of satellite constellations on astronomy, both radio and optical. The AASPPD joined the Recommendations group within the Satellite Constellation Working Group. Astronomers, operators, and space lawyers worked together to draft recommendations toward international policy using the results in the report produced from the (June 28 - July 2) Satellite Constellation (SATCON1) Workshop. The AASPPD set up the SCWG's first meeting with the FCC to discuss the SATCON1 Report recommendations. The AAS and SIA teamed up again to do a 1-hour informational webinar for the satellite industry on astronomer's concerns about satellite constellations. The focus this time was going over the technical recommendations of the SATCON1 Report.

September 2020:

  • The SATCON1 Report was published on the bulletin of the American Astronomical Society. The SCWG had their first meeting with SpaceX since the report came out to discuss observations of VisorSat. The interagency Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (AAAC) met this month and discussed the report. Tony Tyson and Joel Parriott co-authored a piece for Science magazine, "Dark Skies and Bright Satellites"

August 2020:

July 2020:

  • The SCWG, as members of the SOC, hosted a technical workshop from 29 June to 2 July. The goal of this workshop is to produce a white paper, which the working groups have been working on assembling throughout July. The white paper should become available during the month of August. The AASPPD advocated to get the issue of satellite constellations included in the NSF authorization. 

June 2020:

May 2020:

  • AASPPD establishes this webpage to help keep the community better informed. AASPPD co-hosted a webinar with the Satellite Industry Association (SIA) aimed at informing the satellite industry of the impacts satellite constellations have on the astronomical sciences. 

April 2020:

  • The Editor of AAS Nova, Susanna Kohler, published a summary of Jonathan McDowell's ApJL paper on satellite constellations. AASPPD has a call with the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to discuss our approach to the satellite constellation problem. Members of SCWG and SpaceX present to the Astro2020 Subcommittee on Satellite MegaConstellations

March 2020:

  • The AASPPD has an informational meeting with the FAA to be more educated on some of the technical aspects of satellite constellations.  The AASPPD co-hosted an informational Hill briefing on satellite constellations with our Hill briefing series partner, Smithsonian.

February 2020:

  • The AASPPD is contacted by lawyers and the NRDC to discuss satellite constellations and environmental law. 

January 2020:

  • At AAS 235, AASPPD had an in-person meeting with the Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy during which we discussed our strategy for addressing the impacts of satellite constellations. Also at AAS 235, there was a press conference with members of the SCWG titled "Astronomy Confronts Satellite Constellations", the recording of which is posted under Archived Presentations. Additionally, members of the SCWG and Patricia Cooper of SpaceX sat on a panel for a special session titled "Challenges to Astronomy from Satellites". Then NSF Director, France Cordova, brought up the impacts of constellation satellites on astronomy during a Congressional hearing. AASPPD meets with the Office of Space Commerce to discuss the impacts of satellite constellations on astronomy. The SCWG has our first meeting with OneWeb. Pat Seitzer (MSU, member of SCWG) presents on to the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee.

December 2019:

November 2019:

  • The APPD updates Congressional staffers on satellite constellations. 

October 2019:

  • The SCWG hosts a call with ground-based OIR observatory directors to discuss impacts from satellite constellations. AASPPD discusses increasing concerns around satellite constellations with Congressional staffers. The AAS Light Pollution, Radio Interference, and Space Debris (LPRISD) Committee invited abstracts for the Special Session "Challenges to Astronomy from Satellites" (formerly "Threats to Astronomy from Lighting and Satellites") which was held on 8 January 2020 at the 235th AAS meeting in Honolulu. The Pentagon laid out a five-year draft budget for the Space Development Agency (SDA), which included plans for fiscal years (FY) 2021 to 2025 for research, development, prototyping, testing and deployment of large constellations of satellites for military use. Virgin Space and Firefly Aerospace give a Congressional briefing on the small satellites launch industry. 

September 2019:

  • Sixth call between SCWG and SpaceX. ExoAnalytic Solutions gives a Congressional briefing on space debris. 

August 2019:

  • AASPPD discusses satellite constellations with the National Space Council and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Updates from Others

July 2021:

June 2021:

  • On 8-11 June there was a four-day series of seminars hosted by the University of Edinburgh with the British Interplanetary Society, the Open Lunar Foundation and the Institute for Liberal Studies exploring the conditions for freedom beyond Earth. IAU has issued a Call for Proposals for a new Centre for the Protection of Dark and Quiet Skies, specifically focused on the impact of satellite constellations and mitigation solutions, as well as implementation of the solutions and next steps. An announcement went out for the Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society II Workshop on implementing the recommendations from the previous workshop. It will be held in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain 3-7 October 2021. 

May 2021:

  • The MIT Native Students Association, MIT Office of Multicultural Programs and MIT's Chapter of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society co-sponsored a discussion of Indigenous views of human space activity on 14 May.

April 2021:

  • Rep. Mike Levin (D-Calif.) appealed to acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to address the threat orbital debris poses to spacecraft, the environment, and safety on Earth by regulating satellite constellations and studying their cumulative impact on the environment. The FCC approved the lowering of Starlink orbits to 550 km (from 1150 km).  You can read the ruling here. There is a detailed description of the effects on astronomy in Section 4 “Potential Impact on the Night Sky and Astronomy” (pages 47-50). The FCC referenced AAS’s statement and the SATCON1 report in their ruling. Acknowledgment of our input in their deliberations is a big step forward. Even more notable is the following line of text: " ... we conclude that it nonetheless would serve the public interest under the Communications Act for SpaceX to ensure that it does not unduly
burden astronomy and other research endeavors … ” This sets a precedent for all future arguments made before the FCC that impacts to astronomical observations be considered in rulings. 
     

March 2021:

  • NASA and SpaceX signed a joint agreement to share information to improve space safety. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has released a report of its December informational meeting, "Standardization and the Commercial Space Industry – Space Situational and Domain Awareness, Space Traffic Coordination and Management, and Orbital Debris Mitigation".

February 2021:

  • Viasat responds on February 4 to the letter filed by SpaceX on the petition that Viasat filed on December 22, 2020. A meeting on Space as a Global Commons had a heavy focus on satellite constellations and the exploitation of the Moon.  

January 2021:

  • The German Astronomical Society (AG), the German association of amateur astronomers (VdS) and the Society of German-Speaking Planetariums (GDP) issue a statement on the rapid increase in the number of satellites in the night sky. The United Nations's Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) published the Report and Recommendations of the online workshop "Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society". 

December 2020:

  • NASA and the UN sign a memorandum of understanding on peaceful uses of space. Viasat appealed to the FCC to review SpaceX’s plans to reposition to a lower orbit some 3,000 satellites from its Starlink constellation, citing the National Environmental Policy Act. 

November 2020:

October 2020:

  • The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) issued a statement on satellite constellations. The Aerospace Corporation will publish papers on NASA’s Artemis program, the space workforce, space deterrence, space doctrine and light pollution from satellites on Oct. 28.

September 2020:

May 2020:

April 2020:

March 2020:

February 2020:

  •  A report by the Institut Montaigne (a French think tank) recommends the European Union write policy governing broadband satellite constellations.The IAU issued a press release "Understanding the Impact of Satellite Constellations on Astronomy". 

December 2019:

  • ESO makes a statement on satellite constellations 

October 2019:

  • OneWeb submits a letter to the FCC in opposition of SpaceX's applications to expand their Starlink constellation. One week later SpaceX submitted its own letter to the FCC. 

September 2019: 

  • Amazon's Kuiper satellite constellation submits a letter to the FCC

August 2019:

July 2019:

November 2018:

Publications

News Articles

Social Media Updates

Upcoming Events

October: The Dark and Quiet Skies for Science and Society II Workshop on implementing the recommendations from the previous workshop will be held in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain 3-7 October 2021.

July: The SATCON2 Workshop will be 12-16 July 2021. The SatelliteAsia conference takes place 14-16 July 2021. 

Participate in a long-term citizen science project to photographically track the population growth of satellites constellations over time. 

If you are interested in just tracking Starlinks on your own with your phone, Pat Seitzer has instructions to accompany this set of coordinates (link changes with each launch). 

You can also post observations here.

Archived Presentations

Additional Information