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NSF and SpaceX reach astronomy coordination agreement

60 Starlink satellites stacked for launch. Credit: SpaceX

Edinburgh, 13 January, 2023. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) and SpaceX reached an agreement to reduce the impact of Starlink Gen2 satellites on astronomy. SpaceX was granted a licence from the Federal Communications Commission in December to deploy a quarter of its planned 30,000-satellite Gen2 system.

SpaceX Starlink provides high-speed internet service from low Earth orbit. Some of the frequencies used by the satellites are radio astronomy-adjacent frequencies, which could affect ground-based radio, optical and infrared astronomy facilities.

The mitigation between NSF and SpaceX focused on the 10.6 – 10.7 GHz radio astronomy band. The duo’s coordination agreement in 2019 ensured that the satellite network meets international radio astronomy protection standards. A new coordination agreement was signed last year ensuring cooperation to the extent practicable to mitigate the impact on optical and infrared ground-based astronomical facilities. SpaceX has developed specific mitigations for its Gen2 satellites, such as dielectric mirror films, solar array mitigations, new black paint minimizing brightness.

In addition, SpaceX agreed to analyze the impact of astronomical facility lasers on its satellites. The company also committed to coordinating dynamically with US radio astronomy facilities and to minimize the impact on remote geographical radio astronomy sites in polar regions. SpaceX will continue to work with NSF should interference arise.

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