Space

Darkened Visors Coming to SpaceX Satellites

Following recent attempts to reduce the effects of sunshine on reflective parts of satellites, SpaceX plans to integrate sunshade technology in satellite production. 

SpaceX plans to incorporate reflective hardware in upcoming Starlink satellites to minimize the impact of astronomy.

Recently, SpaceX’s vice president of satellite government, Patricia Cooper, announced that SpaceX has 80 additional Starlink satellites that the company plans to inaugurate. These satellite plans use the new schematics that integrate sunshades. SpaceX hopes that the sunshades can shield direct sunlight from hitting the reflective parts of every satellite. 

“We would have about 500 satellites at their current brightness, and then all satellites beyond that would have these sunshades, that is the ratio we would be looking at.” Patricia Cooper relayed this statement during a joint American Astronomical Society and the Satellite Industry Association webinar 

As of today, SpaceX has inaugurated 422 Starlink satellites, inclusive of two prototypes, since 2018. The company is making and releasing a cluster of 4,400 satellites. However, a report received from regulatory filings indicates that the company plans to increase its production of Starlink to 12,000 or even 42,000 satellites.

SpaceX’s planned launch of its visor-equipped satellite, the VisorSat, was postponed due to a delay. The delay was a result of the occurrence of Tropical Storm Arthur that wreaked havoc and pushed the launch of the Crew Demo 2 mission to May 27. Cooper says SpaceX is yet to announce a date for its next Starlink mission.

SpaceX deploys Starlink satellites in clusters of 60 aboard its Falcon 9 rockets. This layout implies that two or more launches can take place without Starlink’s sunshade component. SpaceX has set out to halt the production of previous Starlink satellites as soon as possible to minimize effects on astronomy.

“The earlier version of our satellites that we’ve launched, we don’t expect them to have a complete five-year life span. We are expecting to cut in the VisorSat mitigation at the point that we are launching still in the 500s of satellites.” Cooper further explains.

Tony Tyson, says this inclusion of level 7 darkening visors allows astronomers to use image processing in Starlink satellites to a higher degree. Currently, Starlink satellites feature level five DarkSat – a Starlink satellite capable of reaching level six by using of an experimental darkening coat.

“Progress is being made, but we still have to get to the seventh magnitude somehow. SpaceX is working with astronomers on reducing the impact of Starlink.” Tyson said.

In conclusion, Cooper says that lowering Starlink’s brightness to level seven is something to anticipate. Still, the company is not committed to attaining that level.

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