NASA Says 2nd Gen Starlink Satellites Will Cause Headaches For NASA, Hubble

from the not-worth-it dept

The problem with Space X’s Starlink, as we’ve noted a few times, is several fold. One, the initial deployment of roughly 12,000 low orbit satellites is only going to be able to service around 500,000 to 800,000 total subscribers. In a country with 20-40 million who lack broadband, and another 83 million who live under a broadband monopoly. So despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, it’s barely going to put a dent in the problem it claims to solve. At $100 per month (plus $500 hardware charge) it’s also not all that affordable, the other major issue for rural Americans without broadband.

The other major problem for Starlink is the fact the low orbit constellations cause significant light pollution that harms scientific research, something Musk insisted absolutely wouldn’t happen and scientists say can’t be mitigated. For Starlink to have a meaningful impact at scale (and make any money in the process) it needs both the struggling Raptor engine delays to be resolved, it needs supply chain issues to be resolved, and it needs to launch roughly 30,000 second generation Starlink satellites.

But NASA is now warning the FCC that those newer satellites will cause even more problems for scientific research, space flight, and the Hubble telescope:

“The Hubble orbits at 535 km, and about “8 percent of composite images captured by the Hubble telescope are impacted by satellites captured during exposures,” NASA said. “This proposed Starlink license amendment includes 10,000 satellites in or above the orbital range of Hubble, a situation that could more than double the fraction of Hubble images degraded.” NASA also said that “degradation severity will increase.”

NASA’s letter to the FCC dings Starlink for being overly optimistic about this all either not being a problem or somehow working itself out (which has been a bit of a trend with the company). And again, this is all for a service whose reviews have not been particularly great.

U.S. and European regulators alike were so high on Musk’s promise of next-gen connectivity they generally haven’t done much to implement basic guidelines for deployments or the rise of “space junk.” Worse, the Trump FCC decided to dole out nearly a billion in subsidies to Musk (who claims to loathe subsidies) to deploy Starlink broadband to areas that didn’t make any coherent sense (like traffic medians and airport parking lots). Some of those subsidies have been rolled back via scrutiny by the Rosenworcel FCC, but it’s still not clear why the wealthiest man on the planet needs subsidization of any kind.

So far, Starlink only has about 150,000 customers due to supply chain constraints, and many of the customers waiting in line say Starlink customer service is basically nonexistent. And while the service will certainly be a big step up for folks stuck in remote locations who can afford it, the reality is the majority of people just aren’t going to be able to get the service anytime soon. Given the country could instead focus on the uniform deployment of fiber and 5G, it continues to raise the question of whether any of this is actually worth it.

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Companies: spacex

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Comments on “NASA Says 2nd Gen Starlink Satellites Will Cause Headaches For NASA, Hubble”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Just to point out, $500 plus $100/month is more affordable than $15k plus $100/month, for areas requiring fiber or cable be laid for service.
We hear stories all too often, people moving to a house guaranteed to be wired, only to find out it’s out of service area.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Fiber internet trumps all. It's the best in the long term.

Fiber is both fast and reliable. It can transfer terabits per second of data. It’s a pain to set up, but rural communities are going to need it at some point, and infrastructure upgrades will be much easier afterward. Internet service providers have to bite the bullet, and governments from local to federal must give them a push. Eventually, satellites will be a waste of money for consumers and for ISPs. Cable over copper wires has already become a waste of money.

AR Libertarian (profile) says:

Fiber isn't a fix

For rural areas, they aren’t going to run fiber to your house. Not with out lots of government subsidies. Rural America only got electricity because the government was willing to foot the bill.

"Rural communities" might have access, but try being at the end of a 5 mile dirt road. Or a ranch in Montana. Lots of places in the US are still remote enough to make laying wire or cable or fiber too labor intensive to make economical sense.

There’s also parts of Africa Australian outback. Starlink definitely has it’s place. And Musk has said, it’s not a replacement for urban internet providers. This is to get the remote areas on board.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fiber isn't a fix

Lots of places in the US are still remote enough to make laying wire or cable or fiber too labor intensive to make economical sense.

Hell, some of those "remote" places are in cities.

Our infrastructure isn’t planned properly and the population density often isn’t high enough to justify the maintenance / replacement costs. A YouTube video on the topic.

There’s also parts of Africa Australian outback. Starlink definitely has it’s place. And Musk has said, it’s not a replacement for urban internet providers. This is to get the remote areas on board.

Except Starlink is not viable long-term anymore than the equivalent wired infrastructure. Hell, what are they going to do in 25 years when the technology has improved and they need to replace all of the satellites to get better speeds? Crash them into the atmosphere and hope for the best? What about all of the waste that’s going to produce, not just for the decommissioned satellites but also for the new ones going up and the rockets they’ll use to get there?

It’s more than just a few blurry stargazing pictures, it’s also the viability of maintaining this stuff. It’s not like the Rural Electrification Act where most of the infrastructure is still in use today and can still be reused. This is crap that won’t survive next three decades without a complete replacement. The speeds Starlink provides compared to the modern expectations we have today alone will ensure replacement. Which means it’s a bad choice for the government to be picking up the tab at the expense of taxpayers.

If remote areas want to get on board they’d be better off paying for the wired connection. If they don’t want to pay for it, then they should move somewhere where service can be had at a more reasonable cost. (Both to them and society.)

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Fiber isn't a fix

You cover some good points.

Here’s a thought to bough. Wouldn’t some sort of international agreement to pick up the litter already out there make a lot of these more thoughts than concerns?

The problem isn’t necessarily the adding of new, it’s the adding of more!
How long are we going to let every person with a rocket randomly crap in the back yard?

Mike Bentley (profile) says:

Starlink service is desirous; balance is also

There are vast areas worldwide that will just never see a cell tower or cable. I’ve ordered Starlink to be a backup service in case my primary service is interrupted. We’ve seen multiple-day power outages here several times; for the cell service to be sustained during these, the trucks have to wire utility pole gear with generators; at the same time by using Starlink all I have to do is power my gear with my own resources, I’m not relying on anyone else’s power.

Starlink is popular right now because of twenty years of exceptionally bad behavior by internet service providers who want their network growth to be funded for them to serve oodles of people. And have government keep competitors out of the market.

I speculate here: to fend off some of the angst against Starlink, all Musk need do is buy one of current major providers, and just do what Google started to do and just expand coverage. It would certainly help if he also solved the Starlink satellite albedo problem. Hubble isn’t the only thing that will experience streaks in sky image captures.

Also, note that Starlink is not the only satellite constellation business interested in hoisting 30,000+ satellites, there’s quite the line forming. Starlink wasn’t the first either.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Net forward

Let’s start wit the fact that every complaint about starlink coverage approaches coverage area as if it were big cities.
Or changing systems.?

This isn’t about getting internet to a low income housing project. Or busting up monopolies with more choice.
It’s about getting internet to people who still use a phone line for Internet. If they have a phone line at all.

Nobody company is going to pay to lay fibre across Utah, Montana, Nebraska. When your driveway is 5 miles long and your house is in the woods… nobody cares.

This is an opportunity, as AR Libertarian points out, to get internet to places that have little or no internet coverage.

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