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Understanding The Impact Of Starlink On Ground-Based Astronomy

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
August 8, 2022
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Understanding The Impact Of Starlink On Ground-Based Astronomy

Starlink is a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation operated by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) which aims to provide global satellite internet access.

Thus far, most photometric observations of Starlink satellites have primarily been from citizen scientists’ visual observations without using quantitative detectors.

This paper aims to characterize Starlink satellites and investigate the impact of mega constellations on ground-based astronomy, considering both the observed magnitude and two-line element (TLE) residuals. We collected 353 observations of 61 different Starlink satellites over a 16-month period and we found an average GAIA G magnitude of 5.5 +/- 0.13 with a standard deviation of 1.12. The average magnitude of V1.0 (pre-VisorSat) Starlinks was 5.1 +/- 0.13 with a standard deviation of 1.13. SpaceX briefly used a low-albedo coating on a Starlink satellite called DarkSat to test light pollution mitigation technologies.

The brightness of DarkSat was found to be 7.3 +/- 0.13 with a standard deviation of 0.78, or 7.6 times fainter than V1.0 Starlinks. This concept was later abandoned due to thermal control issues and sun visors were used in future models called VisorSats. The brightness of VisorSats was found to be 6.0 +/- 0.13 with a standard deviation of 0.79, or 2.3 times fainter than V1.0 Starlinks. Over the span of the observations, we found that TLEs were accurate to within an average of 0.12 degrees in right ascension and -0.08 degrees in declination. The error is predominantly along-track, corresponding to a 0.3 second time error between the observed and TLE trajectories.

Our observations show that a time difference of 0.3 +/- 0.28 seconds is viable for a proposed 10 second shutter closure time to avoid Starlinks in images.

Photometric Characterization and Trajectory Accuracy of Starlink Satellites: Implications for Ground-Based Astronomical Surveys

Grace Halferty, Vishnu Reddy, Tanner Campbell, Adam Battle, Roberto Furfaro

Full paper

Comments: Published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 9 pages, 7 figures, 2 tables, and an appendix with observation details
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)
Cite as: arXiv:2208.03226 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:2208.03226v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
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Submission history
From: Adam Battle
[v1] Fri, 5 Aug 2022 15:23:28 UTC (2,078 KB)

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