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  • You're looking at 60 satellites

  • hurtling into the sky.

  • And over the next few decades,

  • Elon Musk is hoping to send 42,000

  • of these satellites to space,

  • 15 times the number of operational

  • satellites in orbit today.

  • It's part of Starlink,

  • the expansive constellation from Musk and SpaceX

  • that hopes to bring the world

  • low-latency high-speed internet,

  • promising no more buffering

  • and nearly instantaneous internet

  • in every corner of the world.

  • But experts worry it may come

  • at a hefty cost for space exploration.

  • Nearly half of the world's population

  • does not have access to the internet,

  • because most internet options

  • require an extensive track of costly underground cables,

  • leaving many rural locations offline.

  • And while satellite internet can reach those areas...

  • Dave Mosher: Traditional satellite internet

  • is provided by a bus-sized spacecraft

  • that is launched 22,236 miles

  • into space in orbit around Earth.

  • Narrator: That distance means the satellite

  • can reach places that cables can't.

  • But since that one satellite

  • is meant to service a lot of people,

  • its data capability is limited,

  • which then limits connection speeds.

  • And that signal has to travel a long way,

  • creating a lot of lag.

  • This is where Elon Musk and SpaceX come in.

  • Mosher: Starlink is a globe-encircling network

  • of internet-beaming satellites

  • that is trying to get you online

  • no matter where you are in the world.

  • Narrator: And there's a rather persuading element

  • for SpaceX as well.

  • Mosher: Elon Musk has said he's just trying to grab

  • a small percentage of a trillion-dollar-a-year

  • telecommunications industry around the world.

  • If SpaceX can pull this off,

  • the company could net about $30 to $50 billion a year.

  • Narrator: Musk and SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell

  • say that much money could single-handedly

  • fund the development of Starlink, Starship,

  • and SpaceX's Mars-launch infrastructure.

  • As of early October,

  • SpaceX has launched more than 700 satellites into orbit,

  • with a plan to release a total of 12,000

  • over the next five years,

  • half of them by the end of 2024.

  • And Musk wants to add another 30,000 to that,

  • coming to a total of 42,000 satellites circling Earth.

  • All of these satellites will also be much closer,

  • anywhere from 200 to 400 miles

  • above the planet in low-Earth orbit.

  • Mosher: This reduces the connection delay

  • that is found with traditional internet satellite.

  • Narrator: Once in orbit,

  • these Starlink satellites will be constantly on the move,

  • which is why so many are necessary.

  • Mosher: The problem is you have to have many satellites

  • orbiting to make up for the fact that

  • you can't stay in one spot above the Earth.

  • Because you need several satellites overhead

  • at any one time to cover many users.

  • Narrator: Every satellite will connect

  • with several others via laser beams,

  • creating something like the network's backbone.

  • And to actually bring this internet into your home,

  • you'll need to get a pizza-sized antenna.

  • This phased-array antenna can aim its beam

  • at whatever satellite is overhead,

  • which will maintain an internet signal in your home.

  • But this scheme isn't without problems.

  • Starlink satellites are bright.

  • They reflect the sunlight and shine it back towards Earth,

  • so they end up looking like bright moving stars.

  • As cool as it may look, that comes with problems.

  • Mosher: Starlink satellites are most visible

  • in the night sky right before dawn and right after dusk,

  • which is the exact time that astronomers

  • are hunting for near-Earth objects or asteroids,

  • objects that could hit Earth and possibly harm us.

  • Narrator: And as more satellites go up,

  • so does the likelihood that

  • they'll interfere with astronomers' views.

  • Mosher: If Starlink continues to be a problem

  • for these type of sky surveys,

  • we may not have as much notice as we want

  • to detect a near-Earth object

  • and thwart it and prevent it from hitting Earth.

  • Narrator: Beyond detecting deadly asteroids,

  • the wall of satellites could also obstruct

  • the search for new planets or even black holes.

  • Mosher: SpaceX realized it had to do something, and it did.

  • It created what's called a DarkSat,

  • which is a satellite that has all of its shiny parts

  • coated in a very black, dark material.

  • Narrator: It also tried adding visors

  • to shield those shiny parts from the ground.

  • But unless the satellites are cloaked

  • like a spaceship in "Star Trek,"

  • technology that does not exist,

  • none of this will fully solve the problem.

  • And even if it did, there is a much bigger issue at hand.

  • Mosher: There's a concern about space debris,

  • because when you have so many satellites

  • in the closest, tightest, densest orbits around Earth,

  • there's a higher chance that those satellites

  • could collide with each other or with other satellites.

  • Narrator: Those crashes would create

  • clouds of debris that can orbit the Earth

  • for years, decades, or even centuries.

  • Mosher: And that debris can then disable

  • or cause other satellites

  • to crash into each other, creating even more debris,

  • and this problem spirals out of control

  • in an effect called the Kessler syndrome.

  • And if we reach that,

  • then essentially space is too unsafe to access.

  • Narrator: To be clear, the risk

  • of a runaway Kessler syndrome is very low.

  • Mosher: But the potential impacts of that are so high

  • that scientists are working very hard

  • to control such an event from ever happening.

  • Narrator: SpaceX has said its satellites

  • can automatically move out of the way to avoid collisions.

  • But dozens of SpaceX satellites are already disabled

  • and can't move at all, posing a potential threat.

  • And those concerned with SpaceX's plans

  • are lobbying the FCC to rein in the company

  • and more strictly regulate low-Earth orbit.

  • And that could make it more expensive

  • and harder to deploy the planned 42,000 satellites.

  • But it doesn't stop at Starlink.

  • Amazon's Kuiper project, OneWeb,

  • China's Hongyan, and other projects

  • are looking to challenge SpaceX

  • by launching their own global networks

  • of hundreds or thousands of satellites.

  • If they all got their way with little to no regulation,

  • we could end up with 100,000 satellites

  • encasing our planet within the next 10 years,

  • dramatically increasing the risk

  • of blocking off space for everyone.

You're looking at 60 satellites

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What Elon Musk's 42,000 Satellites Could Do To Earth

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/11/10
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