Independence: 5G vs. Astronomy & Environment; Losing the Sky

By Patricia Burke

The Astronomical Society of Edinburgh recently hosted Losing the Sky.

“Thousands of satellites are now being launched into Low Earth Orbit in ‘mega-constellations’ to give us high speed internet from space, with the prospect of tens of thousands more, as competition heats up. But many astronomers are furious, as the satellites streak brightly across their images, and space experts are worried that we are headed towards unsustainable overcrowding. Are we selling off space? Polluting our last wilderness? Losing our right to see the stars? Opening the door to adverts in the sky? Or are these things a reasonable price to pay to connect up the world to the internet, at the fastest possible speeds?”

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Losing the Sky, 2 ½ Minutes Trailer

Losing the Sky, Edinburgh 2-hour Webinar

Andy Lawrence writes,

“I love Astronomy. I love Space Exploration. I love the Internet. Until 2020, I assumed that these three loves do not clash, and indeed that they feed each other in a virtuous cycle. It now seems that was just a Moon Age Daydream. A new generation of satellite megaconstellations – fleets of thousands of low orbit satellites – is on its way, aimed at producing ubiquitous global high-speed internet connection. All very exciting – but these objects pollute the night sky, streak across our astronomical images, blare loudly and unpredictably at our radio telescopes, and increase the danger of spacecraft collisions, pushing us towards a space debris run-away that may make space industry unsustainable. [ ] the problem of sky pollution is really an example of environmental damage, and the tragedy of the commons – the sky seems to be a free resource, so why not use it? But we all pay the price. [ ] I see the loss of the sky through unthinking commercial exploitation as an example of environmental damage: the last damned straw.”

SpaceX “Suggested Satellites Would Be Barely Visible”

As Hua Liu writes,

“On May 23rd (2019) entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX launched 60 Starlink communication satellites aboard a single rocket. Within days skywatchers worldwide spotted them flying in formation as they orbited Earth and reflected sunlight from their shiny metal surfaces.

SpaceX had suggested that the satellites would be visible just barely, if at all. But for a few days after launch the Starlink constellation shone as brightly as many astronomical constellations, and SpaceX intends to launch thousands more such spacecraft as part of an effort to provide internet service to everyone in the world. The Starlink satellites and similar swarms being developed by other companies could eventually outnumber the stars visible in our night sky.”


In the article “An Uncertain Future for the Night Skies” Lukas Zalesky wrote,

“Across the next decade, numerous private industry companies (including SpaceX, Kuiper Systems by Amazon, Samsung, and Boeing) each plan to launch between several hundred and several thousand satellites into ‘low Earth orbits’ (LEO). Satellites in LEO orbit at an altitude of less than ~1000km. Though there are currently some 11,000 artificial satellites in LEO, the majority of these objects are small debris orbiting at altitudes greater than 600km. Starlink satellites, on the other hand, make up the majority of large objects (> 100kg) orbiting below 600km. Because of their low orbits and their sizes, most of these satellites are bright enough to be seen by the naked eye. At LEO, satellites circle the Earth about once every 90 minutes, meaning they have little time to communicate with facilities on the ground. Only a megaconstellation of satellites can provide consistent and uniform communication to populated areas across the Earth.”

American Astronomical Society (AAS)

“On June 8th, at the 234th AAS meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, the AAS Board of Trustees adopted the following position statement on satellite constellations:

‘The American Astronomical Society notes with concern the impending deployment of very large constellations of satellites into Earth orbit. The number of such satellites is projected to grow into the tens of thousands over the next several years, creating the potential for substantial adverse impacts to ground- and space-based astronomy. These impacts could include significant disruption of optical and near-infrared observations by direct detection of satellites in reflected and emitted light; contamination of radio astronomical observations by electromagnetic radiation in satellite communication bands; and collision with space-based observatories. The AAS recognizes that outer space is an increasingly available resource with many possible uses. However, the potential for multiple large satellite constellations to adversely affect both each other and the study of the cosmos is becoming increasingly apparent, both in low Earth orbit and beyond.'”

International Astronomical Union: Regulations Outdated writer Tereza Pultarova notes,

“The International Astronomical Union is calling for the pristine night sky to be protected by the United Nations as astronomers struggle with exposures ruined by trains of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites.

Space debris experts have long warned about the deteriorating orbital environment. Regulations, they say, were drawn up long ago when there were far fewer satellites hurtling around the Earth. What is worse, the guidelines, such as the requirement to deorbit a spacecraft within 25 years of a mission’s end, are not always observed. According to ESA, only about 20% of satellites in low Earth orbit are successfully deorbited at the end of their mission.

According to ESA, about 11,370 satellites have been launched since 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully orbited a beeping ball called Sputnik. About 6,900 of these satellites remain in orbit, but only 4,000 are still functioning.  Starlink, with its monthly rate of over a hundred launched satellites, might wreak havoc in the already perilous orbital environment.”


“Spaceports” on Earth; More Environmental Impact

Stop5G International notes that Spaceports, aka cosmodrome and launching pads, are sites built for launching space vehicles into orbit. These complexes are expansive as they often house one or more launching sites, storage and production facilities, and runways. Rocket launching sites are most often built away from populated areas and near a body of water, so in the event of an explosion, human lives won’t be endangered. Wildlife is not factored in. This results in pristine areas in nature often being targeted for these complexes. Communities that live on lands being converted to launching pads are mounting campaigns to hold onto their land. Battles between satellite companies seeking permits to build, and rural communities and environmentalists opposing these new sites, are being reiterated around the globe.

SpaceX’s FAA Problems, Boca Chica


“‘Elon always said this was the place to launch rockets because there’s nothing here, that it’s just a big wasteland,’ she says. ‘But that’s just not true. It’s an amazing place for shorebirds. It’s got to be one of the best places for shorebirds in the country.’


Much of the land here is part of the 10,680-acre Boca Chica tract of the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Kemp’s ridley turtles, the most endangered sea turtles in the world, nest on the beaches; dolphins swim in the nearby Laguna Madre. The only remaining breeding population of ocelots in the United States lives here. The last confirmed sighting of a jaguarundi in the U.S. happened nearby, in 1986, and there are rumors some may remain.


It is the birds, though, that set Boca Chica apart: egrets, falcons, pelicans, plovers, sandpipers, sparrows, and warblers, among others. There are many species of birds in the Rio Grande Valley that can’t be found anywhere else in the U.S. But it’s a hard time for shorebirds up and down the Gulf Coast. Too much development, too many vehicles, a changing climate. The Boca Chica portion of the wildlife refuge is intended to provide a sanctuary.”  – Texas Monthly

Operating Outside Their Scope

MyRGVnews reports,

“A 480-foot-tall Starship launch tower SpaceX is building at Boca Chica Beach might have to go, depending on the results of an ongoing Federal Aviation Administration review of the company’s evolving plans for the site.

In 2014 the FAA conducted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and issued a Record of Decision approving Boca Chica for up to 12 commercial launches a year of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. However, the company’s plans for the site changed, and in 2019 the Starship development program began at the site, which SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has dubbed ‘Starbase.'”

SpaceChannel reports,

“In 2014, SpaceX was approved through a FEIS (Finale Environmental Impact Statement) to launch the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets from Boca Chica TX, but as of today, the site has never been used for that purpose. Instead, operations have been focused on Starship and its Super Heavy Booster.

Operating outside the scope of their MOU has brought up multiple issues.

Excessive closures to Boca Chica Beach State Park and the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge have exceeded what was anticipated.

The Rio Grande Valley Sierra Club, Corpus Christi-based Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program and American Bird Conservancy believe impacts have been and will continue to be, much larger than what was outlined in the 2014 FEIS resulting in unforeseen/unanticipated consequences such as explosions, brush fires, increased traffic, resulting in more risk to various endangered species.”

Not to mention, the not-small issues of the Weaponization of Space, and humanity’s newest adventure, Space Tourism.


Learn More:

Let’s not lose the skies – the commons that belongs to all – to competing, surveillance-colluding “entrepreneurs.”

You can read the rest of the series “Independence Day 5G” HERE

Top image: Flo Freshman


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