Who owns the night sky?


Everybody, or… only the people who can afford to sell broadband?

Who owns the night sky? /img/starlink-satellite-constellation.jpg

60 Starlink satellites by the SpaceX company are already circling Earth, and more are coming. Eventually, the project aims to launch nearly 12,000 more Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit: Once in place, the complete orbital array will provide fast, uninterrupted internet to the entire planet.

Internet via satellites = brighter night skies

Besides uninterrupted internet, the Starlink satellites will provide uninterrupted views of… themselves in the night sky:

Who owns the night sky? /img/starlink-train.png

as shown in the image above and explained here. Which is a much bigger deal than you may suspect, for all sorts of reasons: scientific, “poetic” and “political”.

What astronomers, and EVERYBODY else, will see: LESS stars

Less than 100 years ago, everyone could “look up and see a spectacular starry night sky”.

Today, this paragraph is my own synthesis of this Twitter thread by Doug Ellison.

[Future Starlink satellites] will remain in the sunlight even longer after sunset/before sunrise. Hence, they WILL be naked eye visible, for at least an hour, more like two, after dark and before dawn. How many? Eventually, there will probably be 10-20 visible satellites at a time. From almost anywhere.

[As a consequence] the night sky, at the time when it is looked at the most, by the most people is going to be imposed upon by Starlink.

Professional astronomers will have a REAL headache on their hands. In some cases, astronomical observations will just not be possible with Starlink satellites overhead. Everybody else will enjoy less stars, courtesy of Starlink light pollution.

The question is - is this worth doing? [Sure], “Get the world online! Information will save lives etc etc.” But stealing the sky from the world to do it? Isn’t there another way to get the world on line?

Construction of one cell phone tower, which only impacts ONE small neighborhood, requires environmental impact studies, and public hearings that may stop it. Here, we get a mega constellation of satellites in EVERYONE’S back yard.

Should a company even be allowed to profit from the night sky in this way? Should not the globe have been consulted?

If you love the night sky, go and see it now before it’s too late. And if you’re a ground based astronomer… your job just got a lot, lot harder. Because profit comes first. Disgusting.

What OTHERS see: neocolonialism

This paragraph, instead, is my own synthesis, and understanding, of another Twitter thread started by Divya M.:

Who owns the night sky? /img/american-flag-on-the-moon.jpg
  • You Musk and other “space tech people” can talk the necessity and nobility of Starlink and similar all you want, but “your cost-benefit analysis are based on YOUR values and entitlement to this planet. If you define the greater good, is it really the greater good? The internet industry EXISTS outside of your white utopiae”
  • how can [you space tech people] purport to knowing what people in the Global South need, and how they need it? How do you map so much desire onto them?
  • Who are [you space tech people] to decide what’s a worthy exchange? Who gets to do that cost-benefit analysis on behalf of everyone? Did I elect you? Did you colonize me?
  • Musk & similar billionaires often ~endow great technologies on the world and claim poor people get to access it. How? Where?
  • Whether [internet] is a “right” or not, WHY do space tech people feel like they’re delivering a gift to the masses?
  • Do any of these solutions function as partnerships? Do they [reject] slavery-based electronics mining, or partnerships w/regimes who will monopolize access for a certain class?
  • Or is it just a model of white saviorism that gets them loads and loads of investment to offset net-loss projects like Uber and Tesla?
  • This will also impede climate science, important monitoring of existing satellites, and worsen our extreme space junk situation

Light pollution, and other western endowments

Who owns the night sky? /img/night-sky-with-or-without-blackout.jpg
Visible stars before and during a blackout, Todd Carlson, via Dark Sky Association

I (Marco) still need to form a definitive opinion about this specific project. All I can say now is that:

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