back to article AI algorithms can help erase bright streaks of internet satellites – but they cannot save astronomy

Hundreds of scientists around the world have been quietly volunteering their time to prevent low Earth orbit satellites from destroying astronomy. Space is getting more and more crowded. As technology has advanced, lobbing things into space has become cheaper and more accessible for commercial entities. Private companies are …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    Painting them black ...

    is not something that can be done as it just makes them absorb more sunlight and so over-heat.

    What about using the same flat panels, etc, as used on stealth aircraft to reduce reflections and so visibility ?

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Supposing your satellite doesn't radiate anything into the line of sight. It still occults the background. So was that a planet passing in front of the star or a satellite?

      Probably you can separate them. But in reality, your satellite will radiate something, somewhere in the spectrum. And that will create edge cases. (Literally: cases where the edge of the satellite clips what the target.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        converting to infra red solves most of the problem.

        If it is radiating infra-red, that far less of a bother than reflecting visible light, because even on a clear night the water vapor in the earths atmosphere is interfering with infra red anyway.

        Coloring it black with a to-infra-red emitter solves 99% of the problem as far a astronomy goes, and 100% as far having to view the buggers with the naked eye or a visible light only telescope. They are far brighter than anything else. It's a real spoiler.

    2. General Purpose

      Re: Painting them black ...

      If a panel's not reflecting, it's absorbing.

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge

        Re: Painting them black ...

        It's about time someone clever invented a black paint that didn't absorb!

        1. Jaybus

          Re: Painting them black ...

          They're all busy inventing the battery that never needs charging.

          1. Paul Herber Silver badge

            Re: Painting them black ...

            They're being very busy inventing non-reflective white paint!

        2. TangoDelta72

          Re: Painting them black ...

          This product seems interesting:

          It's already being used in astronomy, and apparently there are "flavors" that can absorb or reflect different wavelengths, depending on purpose.

    3. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Painting them black ...

      "Stealth" aircraft do have radar absorbent paint but they're primarily designed to reflect radar signals away from the plane in which they arrived, so that the radar station or aircraft that emitted them (or others in the area) don't receive a loud return signal. This usually means reflecting them away from the horizontal.

      In the case of these satellites, the transmitter (the sun), the reflecting object (the satellite) and the receiver (ground telescopes) are all at wildly different and constantly changing angles, which makes dealing with these reflections a much more difficult problem.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Painting them black ...

        reflecting sunlight away from the ground is the best way to deal with the problem as it doesn't heat your object up like painting them black does.

        With cheaper cost to orbit and larger payload capacity some of the problems start being easier anyway. James Webb spent so long in development because of the huge launch cost and limited fairing development but it would be cheaper/faster to start over and reengineer for Starship + ion tugs to/from L5 than to launch the complex origami and continue the sunk cost fallacy

        The best observation points to spot potentially dangerous earth-crossing asteroids are the Trojan points, not on Earth at all. Hopefully Starship means KH11 size instruments can be dedicated to the task in the medium term - we may well have catalogged everything large but Chelyabinsk was a timely reminder that there's plenty of 10-100metre size stuff we havn't got a bead on which could be highly problematic if it happens to blow up over a populated area.

        The Barringer Crater (Meteor Crater) impactor was only 30-50m across or thereabouts and left a crater over a mile wide with a death-zone in a contemporary environment at least 10 miles wide and severe damage out to 50-100 miles. That's a city-killer in anyone's terms - from a rock less than half the size of a football field.

  2. Chris G

    Perhaps, we need an international study to determine what numbers of satellites would be required to actually benefit us earthlings while permitting astronomy to continue.

    I can see a point being reached where the only way to easily see past the fleets of sat's will be to subscribe to 'Astronomy as a service' from astronomical sats like Hubble launched by the new commercial generation of astrogarchs.

    1. Timbo

      "Perhaps, we need an international study to determine what numbers of satellites would be required to actually benefit us earthlings while permitting astronomy to continue."


      1) It would probably be set up/controlled by Americans who would have vested interests in ensuring that they could put up as many as they like, while subduing other countries

      2) How would you "police" this? And what is to stop some country selling their allocation (for many shekels) of satellites (that they were allowed to launch) to some big bucks company like Amazon/Spacelink/OneWeb

      3) Putting more satellites into orbit, and NOT having a fool proof (and internationally recognised) way of de-orbiting them makes little sense and for now, the chances of further collisions by wayward orbiting space debris is going to increase to the point where it might mean we cannot launch anything soon, if too many fragments/shards are orbiting at 20,000+ mph.

      1. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

        I believe most of these are "low orbit", ~ 600 km, by necessity - to keep the signal flight time short. At that altitude, without active boosting from on-board propellant, the orbit will decay in a few years. They have on board propellant so they will up for a while.

        The plan, apparently, is to deliberately de-orbit them before propellant runs out, so they come down quickly and at preferred locations.

    2. b0llchit Silver badge

      With 40k+ satellites you have one approx. every 250 km apart all over the globe in each direction in the sky. That is simply excessive. No need to study or investigate. It is a bad plan, plain and simple, a bad plan.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        > you have one approx. every 250 km apart all over the globe

        For a short period... Then one of them will experience a catastrophic failure (given the numbers it's unavoidable), and the ensuing chain reaction of debris collisions will quickly turn them all into an all-compassing cloud of shrapnel, angrily orbiting earth until many years later it eventually sinks into the atmosphere.

        With such a density, all it takes is one single accident to quickly take them all out: It's like shooting fish in a barrel. And given those are not handcrafted high-end birds, but cheap & cheerful disposable satellites, something is bound to happen sooner or later: A missed orbit, a satellite unable to hold its position, any technical problem with one of them will do, and when there are some 50000 of them up there, the chances of it happening are very high.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge

          Look on the bright side

          All that schrapnel might cut down sunlight by a few percent and buy us some time with global warming where the cuts aren't deep or quick enough.

        2. veti Silver badge

          Just because one of them lets fly a bit of shrapnel, doesn't mean they all immediately explode. I think you may be underestimating how easy it is to miss a target the size of a satellite at a range of several hundred kilometers.

          Let's imagine a solar panel flies off in a random direction. The area of the orbital plane at 600 km is approximately 2.5 billion km2. 40,000 satellites, each filling about 40m2, will fill about 6.4e-10 of that space. That's the chance,per orbit, of an accidental collision, and that's assuming the debris flies off in exactly that orbital plane. If we allow for a bit of variation in orbital radius, it rapidly becomes way less likely.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            > I think you may be underestimating how easy it is to miss a target the size of a satellite

            If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Satellites don't just hang there, they move fast, and thus cover a huge surface every day. The ISS makes about 15-16 orbits a day, so those even lower-flying sats will clearly make more, that's a lot of occasions for paths to cross some rogue debris.

            Besides, even right now when there are way less than 40k satellites up there, they had to move the ISS to avoid risking a collision. And they do it regularly, which seems to mean that those orbits aren't that evenly spaced all over the planet.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re. It is a bad plan, plain and simple, a bad plan

        my honourable et4dsbreheate5u86wags makes a fairly common error of overestimating the earthlings, calling this a 'bad plan', because there's no plan.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd be in far greater favor of installing fiber to the community, with a proper cell network to provide the citizens access, and hardwired connections for those close enough to the termination/entry point of the national fiber.

    It wouldn't pollute the skies, it would provide LOCAL jobs for the populations around the globe, and it would produce LOCAL infrastructure instead of another excuse for some American megacorp to rape and pillage the pockets of the global population...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      They won't even do that for rural America - their own backyard.

      1. itsborken

        And yet the States just passed a bill to do so. It is all but guaranteed there will be some group raising environmental concerns when trenching up the countryside to accomplish this.

    2. Charles 9

      What if the community is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by mountains (secluded valley) or even ocean (islands)?

      Worse, what if the community in question is moving, like an airliner in flight or a ship out at sea?

      Lastly, who's going to pay for all that cabling and installation? Why isn't rural America wired up? There's your reason right there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I'm quite sure putting some 40k satellites to orbit plus the ground infrastructure will cost way more than laying some fibers. No matter how remote, if you've got electricity and water there is nothing preventing you from adding a bunch of fibers to that same trench.

        Now who is going to pay for all that cabling? Well, who pays for all those satellites and rockets and ground infrastructure? This is a stupid question, isn't it. The only difference is that in one case nobody thinks there is "enough" profit to be made connecting the boonies, while in the other they are convinced they can sell enough high-value contracts to rich clients to make the whole thing profitable. Funny enough their marketing argument is those very same unprofitable boonies...

        1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

          I'm quite sure you're wrong about that.

          However, I am too lazy to look it up as well.

        2. Charles 9

          Laying some fibers, yes, but laying enough to connect all of them at once? That's the key with the satellites: it's a "blanket" approach able to cover all those rural and isolated communities in one shot. This also helps solve the cost issue. Running cabling to each individual community for little return (not enough customers) adds up, thus the sticks stay in the dark. A blanket approach is easier to spread the costs to all the communities (not to mention the ships and airplanes, which you did not address and are impossible to wire up because they move).

          And look, I lived on an island once: Guam, a dinky little speck of land the size of DC in the middle of the blankin' Pacific Ocean, where the nearest major city is a several-hour flight away (and isn't in the US) . The power plant was local using shipped-in bunker fuel and the water was either shipped in, collected from the rain, or desalinated (using more power). None of them required trenches. Undersea cables are a major undertaking in themselves. At least with places like Hawaii and Guam they have the excuse of military presence to justify government outlaw for undersea communications cables. The rest? They're in the same boat as everyone in the sticks.

          1. Grunchy Silver badge

            I have a philosophy and it goes like this: if you can run power lines to a house, you could also run telephone/DSL service. If you wanted.

            1. adam 40 Silver badge

              Sounds great if you want to email someone else at the other end of Guam.

          2. trindflo Bronze badge

            I recall reading an article I can't find now that described an inexpensive community networking utilizing cell phone technology that would provide internet and enable people to communicate with local cell phones directly bypassing the cell phone companies with a proof-of-concept demo. There are proposals like the following that as far as I know have never been built:



            with something like that you wouldn't need to run fiber to every house and would still provide a lot of connectivity.

            It would probably be harder to charge people for using a network like that, and would likely be harder for a government that felt in crisis to shut down communication among the populace.

          3. ThatOne Silver badge

            > Guam, a dinky little speck of land the size of DC in the middle of the blankin' Pacific Ocean

            Still had long distance telephone, didn't it? So the infrastructure was there, they just didn't chose to expand it to offering internet to the inhabitants. (Given it's mainly a military base, I guess things are somewhat special over there.)

            I don't think your "cover all at once" argument stands: Don't forget it needs more than just satellites zooming overhead, it requires building ground stations feeding them, lots of ground stations all over the globe, and those are not only expensive but will also heavily depend on local governments and laws. In your Guam example, where would be the ground station which is feeding the satellites over Guam? It has to be somewhere near enough to actually see those satellites.

            IMHO much like cell phone, those constellations are meant to primarily cover the well-heeled customers (Caribbean cruises for instance), the rest of the world will remain an eternal "work in progress", simply because it's financially not reasonable to spend millions just so some crab fishers in the north Pacific can enjoy cat videos between work shifts. You'd never get that money back.

            I'm quite sure the only reason all those constellations cover the whole earth is because those darn birds won't stay put. The profitable parts they are interested in covering are quite localized, but well, LEO satellites have that irrepressible need to orbit...

            1. Charles 9

              "Still had long distance telephone, didn't it?"

              I wouldn't really call it that. It was expensive as hell, too, and often unreliable and unavailable. That should tell you something about the costs involved with laying down that kind of infrastructure.

              I don't think your "cover all at once" argument stands: Don't forget it needs more than just satellites zooming overhead"

              Sure you need ground transceivers, but it's not like it's new technology. The only new wrinkle is the lower orbit and thus differing logistics: a difference in degree rather than kind versus already-existing technology. Okay, some backhaul would be needed, but you wouldn't need that much, it wouldn't have to be expensive, and by spreading them out, you reduce the amount of backhaul you need at each point, not to mention adding redundancy.

              "IMHO much like cell phone, those constellations are meant to primarily cover the well-heeled customers (Caribbean cruises for instance)."

              Why not both if the incremental costs are low enough? You hook the rich customers first to cover your costs. Once that's done, all the rest is gravy.

              "I'm quite sure the only reason all those constellations cover the whole earth is because those darn birds won't stay put. The profitable parts they are interested in covering are quite localized, but well, LEO satellites have that irrepressible need to orbit..."

              Sure, but why not turn a bug into a feature...?

              1. ThatOne Silver badge

                > Why not both if the incremental costs are low enough?

                Because the ground station which covers the profitable Caribbean doesn't reach up to Alaska (for instance). And given the density and average income of rural Alaska (towns won't need this), the Alaskan ground station will never pay for itself. Not for the initial investment, not for the operational costs.

                Besides, I admit I don't know anything about how they plan to do it, but I don't think you can't feed a constellation of fast-moving satellites zooming overhead with a single biggish dish on a rooftop. You'd most likely need several different dishes to feed several different satellites at the same time, and since those satellites are moving rather fast, you might need tracking of some sort to keep them in focus 180° from one end of the horizon to the other. What I'm saying is the ground stations are certainly more elaborate (and thus expensive) than a tin shack with a big dish and a fiber connection.

          4. veti Silver badge

            Undersea cables are pretty extensive, though. Niue makes Guam look like a humming metropolis, and it's way more remote, but even it has its own cable connection.

        3. Jaybus

          I'm not so sure about that. Trenches to install fiber in is not a problem, but that is a lot of fiber to install.

          In any case, I think the rural America market is a target only in that they can collect subsidies for it in the early stages. Once up, they can sell to everyone and I would not at all be surprised if urban users exceed rural users in short order. Think about it. One service that does it all, wherever you go, even during international travel. Internet and cheap mobile communications for every commercial ship from shrimp boat to giant cargo ship. Same service in your car, wherever you go, etc.

      2. Grunchy Silver badge

        Well if you live in the middle of nowhere then what do you want internet for? Seems counter-productive. If you want to talk to your neighbor, guys, hamster radio. Get real.

        I contend that any house that can be hooked up to power could also be hooked up to DSL. You just gotta believe!

      3. Snowy Silver badge

        The why is the telephone monopolies do not want to.

    3. Bartholomew

      On paper they are the bee's knees!

      The problem with latency is that it is directly related to the refractive index of the medium through witch the electromagnetic wave propagates. The refractive index of of air/vacuum is close to 1.000 (EM waves travel at ~300,000 kilometers per second ; 186,000 miles per second), and for glass it is closer to 1.5 (light travels at ~200,000 kilometers per second ; 124,000 miles per second). So potentially 50% more latency for a fiber installed over the same path length.

      So I can see why LEO satellites constellations are so attractive. Dropping 80 millisecond ping time between the east coast of the US and western side of the EU down to nearly 50 milliseconds is very attractive and can not (easily) be achieved any other way.

      But on the flip side when a Coronal Mass Ejection next hits earth directly and kills ALL the satellites in orbit (the 1859 Carrington Event took down the entire US telegraph network ), any under ground/water fiber cable should be fully immune (except for possibly the repeaters every 100 kilometres ; 62 miles and the end points, if not electrically isolated before the CME hits). If a large enough CME hits the earths magnetosphere could temporarily collapse, I wonder what would happen to the Van Allen radiation belt ? That may cause some additional unexpected problems that might take a good few years before the dead satellites can eventually be redesigned for a harsher environment and be replaced. And that would be assuming that the catastrophic consequences of such an event is already planned for ahead of time, I wonder ...

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

        Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

        In the event of a carrington class event, not having any working internot satellites, or internot cable is going to be the least of your problems

        Working out how to repair the power system will be the priority, because no power means no pumping which means no water... no sewerage and no gas supply (unless powered by a small generator fed by a tap on the gas line)

        But then replacing about a 1/3 of the worlds transformers and associated switchgear is going to be fun when you find out we dont make that much in the first place...

        The bitter irony is that upto about 150 yrs ago , a carrington class event would have ment "look at the pretty lights in the sky" and then everyone would have gone back to bed and carried on normally the next day...

        1. Bartholomew

          Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

          I'm picturing people powering up the relays of the under-gound/under-water global fibre cables with large banks of D-cell batteries and then tapping out Morse code with blinking LED's asking for spare transformers, switchgear and other parts to exchange in barter! Or asking for the other end to relay the message on to the next hop!

          1. Tomato42

            Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

            radio + batteries/generators are more likely to be used

            1. Bartholomew

              Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

              That would assume that the ionosphere is in a stable steady state. I wonder what a temporarily collapse of the magnetosphere would do to global HF propagation. It could be better or worse. Maybe all those charged particles might raise the overall noise floor a lot, but the ducting could be amazing. It might be swings and roundabouts.

              I'm thinking of when (October 30, 1961) the US bombed the ionosphere with a Nuke and blocked global HF communications for a while.

              1. Bartholomew

                Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

                Sorry I mean Hardtack Teak was the one 3.88 Mt (1958-08-01) and then they scaled down to kt soon after that international faux pas which caused a communications blackout that lasted 9 hours in Australia and at least 2 hours in Hawaii.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

        > Dropping 80 millisecond ping time between the east coast of the US and western side of the EU down to nearly 50 milliseconds

        I'm not sure you can simultaneously see a LEO satellite both from the USA and Europe. And if you can, it's certainly not for very long, which means you'll have handshake delays as the following satellite takes over, then the following, then the following.

        People, please don't succumb to magical thinking. "Internet from the sky", yes, all satellites will have an internal reservoir of "Internet" they can instantly pour over the poor isolated users... Not. In the real world they depend on simultaneous line-of-sight with an (existing) ground station and the end user. Even if satellites are dense enough for us to live in a perpetual twilight, without line of sight to a working and well-connected ground station they are just useless flying trash cans.

        1. Charles 9

          Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

          Have a look at this:

          According to this, using inter-satellite linking, you can still get a signal from London to New York some ten milliseconds faster than through fiber due to difference in speed of light. And as noted, high-frequency traders will pay a fortune for a jump on the competition since they could potentially rake in millions from this latency arbitage.

          1. adam 40 Silver badge

            Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

            High frequency traders trading in London aren't in New York, they are within a few hundred yards of the LSE. For that very reason.

            1. Charles 9

              Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

              But events in London CAN affect things in New York and vice versa. Especially in a cutthroat market like HFT where even the tiniest scoop can mean latency arbitrage and getting that narrow window worth millions. Information is ammunition, timing is everything, and coordination matters.

              Here's some grist for the mill (searching for "latency arbitrage" can bring up plenty more):



              1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

                Even if this is true, the solution is to ban high-frequency trading, like they've done in Europe already, not spaff the sky with thousands of pieces of wannabe space junk.

        2. Bartholomew

          Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

          That is the thing, they plan to relay information between satellites within range of each other with auto locking tracking lasers! The tracking systems are fully counter balanced for Newton's 3rd law (every action has an equal and opposite reaction) to avoid unwanted pitch, yaw, and roll. So travelling in a constellation helps reduce the targeting once an initial link lock has been achieved. Messages can be relayed around the globe in space using fricking lasers!

          Some of the repurposing of military tech is ingenious, but for a bulletproof long lasting solution it most definably is not the best choice. Ground based fibre has an expected useful lifetime of about 25+ years, these constellations need to be fully replaced every 7 to 10 years. I guess you could look at that as the glass half full, the system will constantly be upgraded.

          On the bright side, light from the sun takes about 8 minutes 20 seconds to travel the ~149.4 million km ; ~92 million miles to earth so we will should be able to see a critical CME (CME velocity is usually between 20 km/s to 3000 km/s) before it knocks out all the satellites by worst case maybe 14 hours to best case maybe 2 months warning.

      3. hoola Silver badge

        Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

        They don't care, it is all about money and publicity now, not what might happen......

      4. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

        Your latency calculation is erong. The satellite path is two sides of a triangle, or worse if any routing is involved, ehereas the fibre link is closer to a direct path. For most geometries, that will wipe out your speed difference. Also, each fibre is a private universe whereas your orbiting wi-fi is a shared medium, so the scale-up is horrible.

        SatComs is the best solution only where it is the only solution. There are very few areas where that is the case.

        1. Charles 9

          Re: On paper they are the bee's knees!

          "For most geometries, that will wipe out your speed difference."

          Most? Fiber tops out at .7c whereas a satellite link can go almost the full c, at least a 50% speed advantage. The longer the trip, the bigger the latency arbitrage. Peg the length of a fiber optic cable from New York to London at 6,000km. In a good fiber with a refractive index of ~1.467 (meaning light's going right about 200,000km/s), a single trip in the fiber would take...30 milliseconds, not including any stops and conversions along the way (which a sat link would also experience). In 30 milliseconds, light can go half again as far (~9000km) in the same time span in a vacuum.

          "Also, each fibre is a private universe whereas your orbiting wi-fi is a shared medium, so the scale-up is horrible."

          Just a little bit of information can go a long way. Plus there could be more dedicated channels for those willing to pay up. As for being in its own world, that usually doesn't happen at the trunk level. It'd be wasted bandwidth otherwise.

    4. hoola Silver badge

      Ah, but the likes of Musk, Bezos and the Zuck would never do anything like that because they may end up being forced to provide something like the Universal Service in the UK or share things.

      It is much easier to it this way and is seen as providing a useful service for billions of people who cannot afford it.

      The only beneficiaries of this are the companies putting them up and the data that can be collected. If they decide to be philanthropic and make it free to say Sub-Saharan Africa, then the only reason they will is to monetarise the user's data.

      Genuine question....

      Would anyone trust Musk, Bezos (or Google) etc. to handle their Internet access?

      Even the though of Sky brings me at in a sweat......

      1. Charles 9

        "Would anyone trust Musk, Bezos (or Google) etc. to handle their Internet access?"

        Which leads to the secondary question, "Would anyone trust their government to handle their internet access?" And the tertiary one, "WHO would you trust to handle your Internet access?"

        At some point, you find you're simply Up Crap Creek.

  4. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    you do it to yourself, just you/You and no one else

    Did anyone else look at that picture and think of the Tholian Web?

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: you do it to yourself, just you/You and no one else

      Yes, and you escape the Tholian Web by moving yourself to a parallel universe.

      Lets leave and have a fresh and clean start again. Not all of us, just 0.01% should be a manageable lot.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: you do it to yourself, just you/You and no one else

        Uh huh. What selection process do you think is going to be used to pick this 0.01%, and what are your chances of being included?

        1. b0llchit Silver badge

          Re: you do it to yourself, just you/You and no one else

          It is the A-ark, of course.

        2. Francis Boyle

          Re: you do it to yourself, just you/You and no one else

          A test on the maths describing a move to a different universe should do the trick.

  5. itsborken

    A new generation of telescopes should be orbited outside the range of the internet satellites. This would provide more impressive scientific returns given time. It is sad to decommission the venerable land-based telescopes but that is a feature of progress. Frame it as a win-win opportunity.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      1) You're paying for it. (Well you, Musk, Bezos, et al.)

      2) Optimistically, they will take a decade to design, build and launch.

      3) To point out the obvious. Hubble is struggling. And it's only survived as long as it has because we had (past tense) a shuttle and it's close enough to the earth that the shuttle could reach.

      4) Space vs ground is like Consoles vs Pcs. In particular, bigger mirrors and better technology eventually eclipses that which is launchable on a rocket. For example, The giant Magellan Telescope is slated to have ten times the resolving power of Hubble.

      There's a place for both. Well, there used to be.

      1. Charles 9

        "Space vs ground is like Consoles vs Pcs. In particular, bigger mirrors and better technology eventually eclipses that which is launchable on a rocket."

        But anything terrestrial has to contend with atmospheric interference, doesn't it?

        1. Tomato42

          adaptive optics manage the atmospheric interference quite well

      2. veti Silver badge

        Require anyone planning to maintain more than 1000 communication satellites to also sponsor one orbital telescope for the same period.

    2. Lars Silver badge


      Yes, but there are "buts", our capacity to send up big stuff is rather limited compared to what we can build on ground.

      Compare to this telescope for instance.

      The World's Biggest Optical Telescope, the Extremely Large Telescope

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets cut to the chase. This is a space-grab by the Americans, and the Americans alone. Or more particularly, their profit-mongering megacorps who think you can just BUY anything you want, including that which is PUBLICLY OWNED, like the night skies or the air we all breathe.

    There will no surviving the Ferengi States of America if this continues...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. PUBLICLY OWNED, like the night skies or the air we all breathe

      while I share the anger over American! Imperialism! in general, your claim to the skies (and the air we breathe) being 'PUBLICLY OWNED' is baseless. There are no specific laws to prohibit anyone (with enough amazon shares, etc.) to shoot shit into space for their own profit, which is why they do it with inpunity.

  7. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

    If I look up at the night sky in 100 years, and don't see at least one visible megastructure, I for one will be disappointed in humanity.

    No one owns the night sky. Certainly not astronomers or environmentalists.

    1. Martin Gregorie

      Megastrutures can save astronomy but microsats can't

      However, if orbital megastructures are built they will have some saving graces:

      1) There are unlikely to be many of them

      2) If they are REAL megastructures the astronomiers can live in them and put their telescopes on them

      3) Said megastructures will almost certainly in geostationary orbits because they'll cause major damage if their orbits should ever decay and they'll be so big and heavy that regular orbit-boosting like ISS requires would be neither practical or affordable

      For decent sized examples of orbital megastructures, see Neal Stephenson's "Seven Eves"

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      > If I look up at the night sky in 100 years, and don't see at least one visible megastructure

      It's your lucky day, you can actually see the ISS right now, today. And astronomers (or even environmentalists - *shudder*) don't really complain about it either, so your little rant is rather beside the point.

      Hint: Just because some people speak up against a stupid idea doesn't mean they are all dirty commies trying to prevent an all-American guy from earning a honest buck.

      1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

        I'm a European.

        And calling the ISS a megastructure is an insult to spaceflight.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          > calling the ISS a megastructure is an insult to spaceflight

          While it isn't really a "megastructure", it's the most advanced thing we ever made: A permanent, inhabited orbital station. Size isn't all.

          There are two major achievements in spaceflight: Landing on the Moon, and managing to build and operate an inhabited structure in Earth's orbit. Even if it isn't majestic looking or slowly spinning on the tune of Johann Strauss' waltz, it's about the only thing from the SciFi dreams of yesteryear which has actually happened.

          1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

            Yes, and that's *embarrassing.* We could have been well on our way to colonizing Mars by now. We *should* be. (RIP NERVA.) Instead, the best that all the nations of the Earth working together can achieve is a bunkhouse in low orbit.

            SpaceX is an indictment of civilization. Elon Musk, flawed as he is, is the sort of person who *should* make us ask: "what the hell have the rest of us been doing for the last fifty years?"

            To me, what it says is that the biggest thing that's holding humanity back is our endemic willingness to settle for mediocrity.

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              > Yes, and that's *embarrassing.*

              Well, we definitely agree on that. Not so much about Musk being the messiah who will save humanity. He does seem to push things more or less into the right direction, but at this point that doesn't mean much, we don't know yet his real goals. Why not blindly trust him? Because he seems, as you said yourself, pretty flawed.

              As for the thing holding back humanity, it's mostly the egocentricity of humans: Me, me, me. What about me? Where is my profit? There is a wide gap between the dreamworld of SciFi where things "just happen", and reality where things often don't even happen when they should. Mediocrity is just the lowest common denominator...

  8. Grunchy Silver badge

    This is the stupidest thing I ever heard. I've seen satellites flying overhead in the night sky, they don't leave streaks like meteorites at all, they just look like any other planet floating by, except you can perceive the motion. You just block out the 'dot' and move on with your observations, it's not like astronomers don't know where each & every satellite is at any moment.

    1. stiine Silver badge

      Have you ever taken a long exposure shot of the night sky? That's why they appear as lines.

      1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

        To be fair, astronomers presumably work with somewhat better software than "sum all the pictures together."

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Interesting. Comparing your eyes to a camera.

      I'm glad you're alive now and not in the 1870's.

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Aside from the realities of how exposure works, astronomers don't know where all the satellites are. There's no international - or even national - legal requirement for all the operators to publish and continually update a database of locations (well, orbital parameters) of all the satellites they operate. Let alone the launch debris or dead sats.

      1. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

        Well, then that seems like a reasonable regulation that would completely solve the problem?

        (Almost like the entire drama is completely overblown.)

    4. Cederic Silver badge

      You've had a few replies but I thought I'd offer a little more detail in case others are also curious about what's happening here.

      If you're looking at the moon, it's clearly visible with the naked eye. You can photograph it in high fidelity with a short exposure on your camera.

      Now imagine you're trying to photograph a cluster of stars halfway across the galaxy, or a specific nebula. You can't see these things with the naked eye. Some of them you might, on a very clear night with no light pollution, but some of them just aren't visible. They can be detected and photographed anyway.

      I have bog standard camera equipment capable of that, but it needs exposure times of several seconds - for things further away, tens of seconds. These things just aren't that bright.

      When other posters mention long exposures, that's why they're needed. The camera is capturing light for anything up to a couple of minutes, continually. If something bright crosses the field of view during that period, the camera will capture it as a single dot on one sensor receptor, then a moment later a single dot on the next one, and so on.. because it's moving very slowly across the field of view it appears as so many dots that they show on the end image as a line. That's what the image shared in the article shows you - lots of lines, reflecting the slow traversal of multiple satellites across the captured image, where a shorter exposure would have captured none.

      If you want to see this yourself, set up your camera at night (a phone camera will do) and tell it to capture an image for 10 seconds with an aircraft in view. That single point light on the aircraft will over that time frame create a streak of light in your image.

      Satellites are far less visible than aircraft but the same thing happens.

    5. MrXavia

      Light streaks are a thing with any long exposure photography, so yes they will cause issues, the solution is for Elon to put telescopes in orbit and let them be used for free.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Solves one problem relating to the end of the world though...

    Previously we worried that the end of the world would come due to an asteroid strike that we were unable to deflect.

    Now - thanks to these satellite streaks - we won't see the asteroid coming.

    1. Mast1

      Re: Solves one problem relating to the end of the world though...

      Ahhh, remember the cause of the Krikit wars.......

      Obligatory HHGTTG reference.

  10. Morten

    Have you all lost your mind? This has a simple solution, that is even a desired one! Put research stations up into space! The moon might be a temporary good solution, but if we can put stations past the oort belt it would be even better. Stop thinking small.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      I would claim it's rather thousands of small satellites that is thinking cheap and small.

  11. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge

    What alternatives for people in remote areas?

    As a denizen of regional/rural Australia who still has an insane grin on his face every day when looking at his new Starlink speeds, I'm torn by this:

    We are left behind by the utter epic fail that is the so-called National Broadband Network and those of us who can and are tech-savvy enough are voting with our dismounted 4G and Fixed Wireless antennas. Some cast their vote by cutting their rusting copper lines where DSL got them a whopping 1mbps if they were lucky (e.g. my neighbours who couldn't even get 4G due to topography and vegetation). Starlink is our only option to finally achieve speeds that can get within cooee of fibre and boy, does it deliver!

    What's the alternative? When with supreme irony it's also the areas most left behind for fast broadband who keep voting in the drongos who have caused the mess? (and the opposition has indicated no intention to turn this around towards the original plan either). When NBNCo has the gall to send you a "fuck-you-go-away" quote for between $250K and $750K to lay fibre to your house?

    That in a supposedly developed country. Never mind under-developed countries which can now take a major leap forward.

    As stargazer, hobby-astronomer and just all round science nerd, I feel the frustration, but not enough to remain in the networking dark ages through no fault of my own. Maybe there should be a tax that goes into an orbital telescope fund? Tell Elon to take the cash from his Tesla stock sale to build a bunch of Hubble TNG?

  12. trindflo Bronze badge

    near miss meteors

    Has any study been done on the odds (or mean time between catastrophes) of a near miss meteor, or something that was destined to become a meteorite, striking a satellite and turning the night sky into a giant pachinko game? That number should change with the number of LEOs.

    ---> Icon because of what would happen

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Re: near miss meteors

      Not necessary: Given the numbers it's only a question of time till one of the satellites goes rogue (or explodes, or is inserted in the wrong orbit, or any one of the hundreds of things which could go wrong)...

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: near miss meteors

        Yeah, lots of people talk about this.

        But oddly enough, the people launching and maintaining the satellites don't care. The reason being, they know how big space is. They've actually done the maths.

        1. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: near miss meteors

          > The reason being, they know how big space is.

          Space is big indeed, but LEO much less so.

          If they don't care, it's because they are there to make a profit: They've indeed "done the maths", the financial ones actually. Everything else is irrelevant.

      2. Lars Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: near miss meteors

        Yes, I was thinking of the James Webb Space Telescope soon leaving on a Ariane 5 rocket.

        Better not collide with any space junk.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lucy in the Sky

    Here is the answer, suitably bling for Musk -

    CNT = carbon nano tubes


    In the meantime, the new record-setting black is on show at an art exhibition in New York called The Redemption of Vanity.

    MIT artist-in-residence Diemut Strebe has worked with the researchers to coat a 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond from LJ West Diamonds, estimated to be worth $2 million, in the ultrablack material.

    What should be a bright, sparkling, highly reflective gem ends up a lightless void.

    "Because of the extremely high light absorptive qualities of the CNTs, any object, in this case a large diamond coated with CNTs, becomes a kind of black hole absent of shadows," says Strebe.

    "The unification of extreme opposites in one object and the particular aesthetic features of the CNTs caught my imagination for this art project."


  14. Morten Bjoernsvik

    move north

    According to:, there are few satellites if you move above the 55 latitude. I know it is optimal to be around equator because of the viewrange. but we call Tromsoe the Paris of the North :-), And you have taxfree in Svalbard :-)

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Few things

    can remind us plebes of our lowly lot in life as much as this satellite debacle. So some super-rich guys get to launch thousands of satellites into our night skies and fuck up our views, just so they can get super-super-rich? And when were we, as a people, asked if this was appropriate? Never. Because our voices don't really count. We are merely the grain to be ground into flour on their millstone of "capitalism". That is our only function in this. We have no say, as always, in whether or not the Elites fuck up our areas of natural beauty in their quest for supremacy. Sad. Really fucking sad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Few things

      brooding: but this has always been so, never mind what the kings and bishops and democrats and autocrats and the media keep telling you. At least there's some long-term consistency, eh.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Few things

      It's not even going to make Elon rich, since it won't deliver for more than a handful of customers -- the ones who literally can't get a terrestrial connection. But hey, Elon is one of those when he's sitting in his yacht, so that's OK.

  16. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

    Why AI?

    Why the need to use AI for this? Detecting straight lines in images is an easy bread and butter signal processing challenge. I've implemented that sort of thing in MATLAB years ago for identifying criss crossing lines in images and removing them. Hough transform is your friend.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Why AI?

      Signal processing is now called "AI". For some reason.

      That said, it's not simply "remove streaks". There are also real targets that leave a streak, like comets.

  17. adam 40 Silver badge

    This is worse than it sounds.

    Science is based on the original data.

    We can't go around patching it with subtractions AI generated or otherwise.

    This is why the streaks fuck it all up so badly.

    Regarding the asteroid spotting, yeah at least we won't see it coming and be oblivious, rather than be panicked for 6 months and die anyway. But looking on the bright side it might take out a few starlinks on the way past.

    1. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

      Re: This is worse than it sounds.

      This is how it ends

      "But looking on the bright side it might take out a few starlinks on the way past."

      Hey Honey, there's something wrong with the internet. Oh shit.... <icon>

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: This is worse than it sounds.

        I don't know where you live, but my internet usually fails at least a couple of times a week.

  18. Slx

    More social media, less science... Sums up modern decline towards stupidity

    I appreciate that ubiquitous global communications is great but, when consider that most of it will be pointless scrolling of social media and high speed conspiracy theories, you begin to wonder.

    Observing the universe is one of those profound and enlightening things that lets us contemplate who and why we are. Staring up there and not knowing and opening your mind to infinite questions that stretch our intellect to the limit, or just imagining what might be out there is just part of what has always driven us to expand our minds and think big.

    It just feels like we are about to sell all of that for some magic beans, well ... cat videos, conspiracy theories, gossip, ranting at strangers on social media, porn, streaming videos enriching a bunch of tech bros who seem to like nothing more than blowing several small countries' annual carbon budget to get 5 mins in orbit.

    I doubt we'll ever be a spacefaring species. The way things are going, it'll be Mad Max, not Star Trek.


  19. LenG

    Time will solve this problem

    Once the human race has died off as a result of global warming/pollution no more crap will be thrown into orbit. By the time the tardigrades have evolved intelligence enough to be curious about the universe the current crop of orbital rubbish will have fallen to earth so they should have clear skies ... unless they also develop social media

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Time will solve this problem

      And they will also find Apollo 11 on the Moon, which might be quite ... thought provoking.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Telescopes can try waiting for a fleet of satellites to pass before they snap their images

    Click here to buy amazon prime guaranteed MINIMUM 10% of sat-free sky slot for your astronomy-science-fun. Click here for institutional discount, here for state-governments, here for the UN and here's a special upcount button for our special Musk-friend to guarantee 100% blanket back-lit coverage for his patio, day and night!

  21. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

    Not only this issue, but what about future space missions?

    How will they keep track of all those satellites without impacting any future launches into space?

    And it may get too crowded to the extend that launching any new missions to Mars or the moon may well be postponed indefinitely as there is no way that a safe launch can be guaranteed due to too many satellites being in the way of the spacecraft.

  22. Applehu Akbar

    What's killing astronomy is not a few satellite streaks near sunrise and sunset. It's that the Greens have started targeting telescope installations as environmental hazards (Las Palmas) or for being "colonialist" somehow (Mauna Kea).

    The way to save astronomy is to ring up Elon Musk and get it moved out into space. The flat-earth lobby can't touch it there.

  23. James Hughes 1

    Surprising lack of knowledge exhibited by posts here

    Considering El Reg generally attracts technically competent people, there are surprising number of posts on this topic that are clearly horribly informed.

    I mean, not understanding long exposures? Not understanding latency? Not understanding that fibre to everyone is WAY more expensive than a bunch of satellites to everyone? Not understanding that the tech required to launch all these satellites is the same tech needed to launch BIG space borne telescopes? Not understanding the space is BIG, and these satellites are not going to be close together? Not understanding that these LEO satellites decay naturally? Not understanding that getting internet access to third world countries drags them out of poverty? Not understanding high frequency trading? Not understanding that there are people who don't have power lines to their huts? Not understanding Kestler syndrome is not all its cracked up to be? Not understanding that all satellites launched nowadays have to have a deorbit mechanism (or at least the ability to park out of the way)

    For Christs sake people, at least do a little reading before commenting. It's not rocket science...or is it?

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "AI" seems unnecessary here... satellite orbits tend to be predictable. If you know where the telescope is pointing and if you have accurate info on satellite positions, it seems like a relatively simple task to "blink" the affected pixels when a satellite flys through.

    Of course, in space, many things that seem simple to a layperson turn out to be hard to do.

  25. NanoMeter


    They have built it for nothing. Waste of time.

  26. nagyeger

    Smart shutters?

    I'm probably missing something here. As I understand it, the problems are on long-ish exposures. Orbital parameters ought to be known... Shouldn't it be possible to 'close the shutters' (or ignore the appropriate pixels if a multi-exposure integration is happening) as a satellite flies past? Yes, it's going to be a pain in the software, but surely it'll be better to not record the data in the first place rather than try to 'clean up' the contaminated plate?

    1. dajames

      Re: Smart shutters?

      Orbital parameters ought to be known...

      Part of the problem is that orbital parameters are not known ... but once enough photographs have been taken they'll become fairly obvious, and could be recorded in some big collaboratively-maintained document for the benefit of astronomers everywhere.

      It's not a trivial computational problem, though, to track the positions of tens of thousands of pesky little satellites and update a mask applied to the signal from the sensor in a telescope every time one of them moves from one pixel to the next. Amateur astronomers will need more than just a Raspberry Pi to keep up!

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Smart shutters?

        Yes, the problem is that there will eventually be a continuous sheet of them (check the numbers!). Terrestrial telescopes will have to shoot through the gaps, which isn't really possible if the satellites follow every couple seconds and you need 15 minutes exposure to make your deep sky shot.

        As for the idea of replacing the missing data with data from another shot, it's a) impossible (You'd still need a 15 minutes exposure, remember?), but mostly b) absolutely stupid and counterproductive: The point is not to make pretty pictures, but to capture what's actually out there at a given moment. If you start fudging it you could as well ask some special effects team to generate your whole deep sky picture from scratch...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Our very own Dyson Sphere!

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      Yeah, it sucks...

    2. The Bobster

      No bloody A, B, C or D.

  28. Potemkine! Silver badge

    "Give me your money"

    Money supersedes Science. Look at the web, from its academic origin to the bazaar it is now.

    For scientists, I fear the only hope will be to have telescopes on the Moon, as long as it doesn't become another supermarket.

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