Status Report

The Low Earth Orbit Satellite Population and Impacts of the SpaceX Starlink Constellation

By SpaceRef Editor
March 17, 2020
Filed under , ,

Jonathan C. McDowell

(Submitted on 16 Mar 2020)

I discuss the current low Earth orbit artificial satellite population and show that the proposed `megaconstellation’ of circa 12,000 Starlink internet satellites would dominate the lower part of Earth orbit, below 600 km, with a latitude-dependent areal number density of between 0.005 and 0.01 objects per square degree at airmass < 2. Such large, low altitude satellites appear visually bright to ground observers, and the initial Starlinks are naked eye objects. I model the expected number of illuminated satellites as a function of latitude, time of year, and time of night and summarize the range of possible consequences for ground-based astronomy. In winter at lower latitudes typical of major observatories, the satellites will not be illuminated for six hours in the middle of the night. However, at low elevations near twilight at intermediate latitudes (45-55 deg, e.g. much of Europe) hundreds of satellites may be visible at once to naked-eye observers at dark sites.

Comments: 20 pages, 14 figures. Accepted for publication in Ap J Letters

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM)

Cite as: arXiv:2003.07446 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2003.07446v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)

Submission history

From: Jonathan McDowell 

[v1] Mon, 16 Mar 2020 21:19:32 UTC (883 KB)

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