Scientists warn that as the quantity of satellites increases, orbital space around the Earth must be preserved

Leading scientists argue that the orbital space surrounding Earth ought to be safeguarded by environmental laws and regulations similar to those that protect the planet’s land, seas, and air.

An international group of scientists has warned that a rapid increase in the quantity of satellites is cluttering the night sky for stargazers and astronomers, as well as raising the danger of objects colliding in orbit and potentially striking humans or planes when they return back to Earth.

The boom in mega-constellations, that does involve deploying thousands of satellites systems in LEO (low Earth orbit) to supply broadband internet as well as other services, is causing a lot of alarm.

While firms like SpaceX and OneWeb are setting the pace, Rwanda, which just filed a request to deploy 327,000 satellites within a single project, is also intrigued.

Scientists from the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands write in Nature Astronomy that the number of satellites systems in LEO (low Earth orbit) might reach 100,000 by 2030, disrupting astronomers’ work and changing our vision of the cosmos as the number of “false stars” begins to rival the quantity of real stars visible with the naked eye.

“It’s time for us to get our act together.” Andy Lawrence, who is a regius professor of astronomy based at the University of Edinburgh, said, “We need to evaluate where we have regulations that we’re not applying properly, and where we need new regulations.”

“This is about recognizing that the issues we see in space are the same problems we see on the ground, in the oceans, and the atmosphere.  We need to get our collective brains together and figure out how to address this situation.”

Regulations predicated on a satellite’s space traffic impact and restrictions on the carrying ability of different orbits are among the possibilities.

Around 2,000 operational satellites circled the Earth in late 2018. With SpaceX launches alone, that number has roughly doubled in the last two years. All of them have entered the most crowded low Earth orbit, which ranges from 100 to 2,000 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The European Space Agency swung its orbiting Aeolus observatory around a SpaceX satellite in 2019 to avoid colliding with it, marking the first time it had done so. Because of similar concerns, the Chinese shifted their space station two times last year.

While there is strict control to ensure satellites are deployed safely and send signals solely within specific frequency bands, the scientists say that there is essentially no legislation to govern satellites’ impact on the astronomy, night sky, the Earth’s atmosphere, or even the orbital environment.

The researchers explain how satellites’ light may damage astronomical studies by leaving streaks throughout images, and how their broadcasts may drown out faint, natural radio signals which astronomers analyze to comprehend some of the universe’s most unusual objects. However, they believe that the apparent presence of very many satellites jeopardizes the capacity to enjoy the night sky, which the International Astronomical Union considers to be a fundamental right.