For a few seconds, it looked like the Sun was rising over the river. Standing almost 45 miles away the sky and water were completely lit up. We watched the Falcon 9 launch from the pier at Barefoot Bay while looking over the Indian River. The Falcon 9 is delivering 60 new satellites to low Earth orbit. The payload is part of the new Starlink “mega constellation”.
Falcon 9 Launch
The sky was perfectly clear. We watched the rocket arc out over the Atlantic Ocean for a few minutes. The launch went perfectly. We had a great view of the booster separation and even the booster re-entry before landing on a drone ship out in the ocean. (Link to a video of the launch and booster landing on the drone ship at the bottom of this post)
In a completely chance encounter, we witnessed the static test-fire of this rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. We were on the KSC Explore Tour sitting on the bleachers and the tour guide was explaining the various buildings and launch pads. Suddenly a large plume of smoke appeared from one of the pads. Combined with getting to view the launch, this was an incredible experience!
Starlink Mission – a double-edged sword
The network is set to bring affordable internet access around the world, especially to areas where the internet has been unreliable or unavailable [Starlink Mission Overview]. It seems like it might be a great program on the face, but there’s quite a bit of cause for concern over the impact of the program.
Currently, there are about 2000 active satellites in orbit, but SpaceX plans on putting another 10,000 in orbit over the next half-decade. This will lead to spacecraft needing to perform many more collision avoidance maneuvers in the future, maybe even 67,000 per year [MIT Technology Review]. The satellites also change the view of our night sky and negatively affect ground-based astronomical observation and could especially impact radio astronomy and spectroscopy [Nature].
As of July 12, 2020 there are currently 540 Starlink satellites in orbit. That could lead to quite an impact on ground-based astronomical observations. Reportedly, SpaceX has begun using a coating to make the instruments less reflective. Of course, it’s summer in the land of the midnight sun now, so I’ll have to wait until September to see if there are any changes to the night sky.