25 May 2019 |Various Sources
Source: (Marco Langbroek, Leiden, the Netherlands)
On 24 May 2019 at 2:30 UT, SpaceX launched STARLINK, a series of 60 satellites that is the first launch of many that will create a large constellation of satellites meant to provide global internet access.
Just short of a day after the launch, near 22:55 UT on May 24, this resulted in a spectacular view over NW Europe, when a “train” of bright satellites, all moving close together in a line, moved across the sky. It rained UFO reports as a result, and the press picked it up as well.
There were no orbital elements for the objects available yet on Space-Track, but based on the orbital information (53 degree inclination, initially 440 km orbital altitude) I had calculated a search orbit and stood ready with my camera.
My search orbit turned out to be not too bad: very close in sky track, and with the objects passing some 3 minutes early on the predictions. And what a SPECTACULAR view it was!
It started with two faint, flashing objects moving into the field of view. Then, a few tens of seconds later, my jaw dropped as the “train” entered the field of view. I could not help shouting “OAAAAAH!!!!” (followed by a few expletives…).
The video was shot, in a partly clouded sky, with a WATEC 902H low-light-level surveillance camera, equipped with a Canon FD 1.8/50 mm lens. I could count at least 56 objects in the original video.
Over the coming days the “train” of objects will be making 2-3 passes each night. As they are actively manoeuvering with their ion thrusters, they will be more spread out with each pass, so the “train” will probably quickly dissipate.
The objects were launched into a ~440 km altitude, 53 degree inclined orbit. Using their ion thrusters, they will raise their orbits to ~550 km the coming days/weeks.
The brilliant “train” in the night sky that is SpaceX’s first 60 Starlink satellites has wowed some skywatchers, but it also sparked concern among some astronomers wondering what so many visible satellites could mean for scientific observing.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, it seems, is listening.
Musk wrote on Twitter today (May 27) that he’s already instructed teams to look into making future Starlink internet communications satellites less shiny to lower their “albedo,” or reflectivity. He pointed that out in response to a direct call from a com menter on Twitter.
“Agreed, sent a note to Starlink team last week specifically regarding albedo reduction,” Musk wrote. “We’ll get a better sense of value of this when satellites have raised orbits & arrays are tracking to sun.”
SpaceX launched the Starlink satellites Thursday (May 23) into an initial orbit 273 miles (440 kilometers) above Earth. Each satellite is equipped with Krypton ion thrusters to raise its orbit to a final 342 miles (550 km).
“I know people are excited about those images of the train of SpaceX Starlink satellites, but it gives me pause,” planetary astronomer Alex Parker wrote on Twitter Saturday (May 25) as the first videos of the Starlink “train” were popping up. “They’re bright, and there are going to be a lot of them.”
The Starlink satellites are the vanguard of a planned 12,000-satellite megaconstellation designed to offer affordable internet service to people around the world who otherwise would not have such access.