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Good News for Astronomers – Starlink’s v2 Broadband Satellites Are Very Faint

Wednesday, Jun 21st, 2023 (10:02 am) - Score 1,600
Starlink-Satellite

A new piece of research, from a distinguished group of engineers and astronomers, has indicated that Starlink’s latest “V2 Mini” (Bus F9-2) ultrafast broadband satellites, which sit in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and began to be launched earlier this year (here), are over ten times fainter than SpaceX’s first generation (GEN1) spacecraft.

Just to recap. One of the biggest complaints about mega constellations of communications satellites at such a low altitude is that they tend to be very bright, which can cause significant disruption to observational sciences like astronomy (i.e. LEOs showing up as multiple streaks in telescope images etc.). This can make it much harder to picture the night sky and do other things, such as to spot dangerous asteroids or detect key events.

NOTE: Customers in the UK pay from £75 per month, plus £449 for the regular home kit (standard dish, router etc.) and £20 for shipping on the ‘StandardStarlink package, which promises fast latency times of 25-50ms, downloads of c. 25-100Mbps and uploads of c. 5-10Mbps (variable).

Naturally, the Starlink network has taken most of the flak for this because they’re by far and away the biggest constellation. Starlink now has around 4,260 LEO satellites in orbit around the Earth (altitude of c. 500km+) and they have approval to add roughly 7,500 more by the end of 2027.

In response, SpaceX has been working toward a goal of trying to make their future satellites virtually invisible to the naked eye. The biggest step on this journey appears to have been taken by the new V2 Mini satellites, which feature an improved reflective layer that reflects more sunlight away from observers on the ground. SpaceX also adjusts the attitude of the solar arrays to minimize brightness.

The new study – ‘Starlink Gen 2 Mini Satellites: Photometric Characterization‘ – seeks to examine the real-world impact of these changes and the results appear to be very promising.

Study Conclusion

This study reports photometry of Starlink Generation 2 Mini satellites. Magnitudes were recorded during early orbit and on-station phases. Luminosity is characterized and the effectiveness of brightness mitigation is evaluated.

The mean of apparent magnitudes for Mini satellites recorded during early mission phases is 3.07 +/- 0.09 and the corresponding mean of magnitudes adjusted to a uniform distance of 1,000 km is 5.08 +/- 0.08. The means for satellites in on-station operational mode for brightness mitigation are apparent magnitude 7.06 +/- 0.10 and 7.87 +/- 0.09 for distance-adjusted magnitudes.

The distance-adjusted means indicate that brightness mitigation efficiency is a factor of 12. Therefore, the Mini satellites are fainter than Gen 1 Starlink satellites despite their larger sizes.

At this point we have to remember that the new satellites are also much bigger than the first generation (about 3-4x once fully deployed), albeit not as big as the final V2 satellites are expected to be (more than twice the weight at 2,000kg). But the new study also highlighted a few caveats.

For example, when the V2 Minis are first launched then they are actually brighter than GEN1, at least until they’d reached their desired orbit and had been correctly positioned (i.e. you can still expect to see a long line of new Starlinks immediately after launch, and they’ll be even brighter). Certain manoeuvres, such as orbit keeping and collision avoidance, will often also change the orientation of the satellites and thus make them brighter again.

Nevertheless, the study suggests good progress. Indeed, on a number of occasions, the team even struggled to see some of the new satellites with their observational equipment (suggesting their brightness was less than that of even the dimmest stars).

The real test will be whether SpaceX can continue to make improvements and how much of an impact we’ll see from this when the largest V2 satellites begin to launch in the future. At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that observational science is only one area of concern, with radio astronomers also having complaints (here). Not to mention the wider concerns over an increase in “space junk” around the earth and the risk from catastrophic collisions.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
6 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Morris Oxford says:

    Umm.. faint Feint is rather different

  2. Avatar photo anonymous says:

    The satellites may be less visible, but presumably they’ll still occlude anything behind them.

    I’m not an astronomer, but I can’t help feeling that the benefits of pumping LEO full of thousands of cheap satellites to offer broadband connectivity will be somewhat less than the cumulative external costs of the rocket launches and the space junk problems. The main plus side seems to me that disreputable regimes will have plenty of test subjects for their anti-satellite technologies.

  3. Avatar photo charles says:

    I love watching the SL sat trains go over.

  4. Avatar photo Sam P says:

    You can’t see the V1’s in most areas since the changes anyway. I miss the days of watching them go over, it was fun.

  5. Avatar photo Orion says:

    How much They pay you. To write this?

    It is light pollution and it is elect4omagnectic pollution
    .

    No one who understands astronomy.would support this idiotic project.

    Should be illegal under International law

    Shame on you for defending these companies

    1. Avatar photo Bubbles says:

      It’s fast internet pollution. I love

Comments are closed

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