As of February 2021, SpaceX’s venture called Starlink provides internet connection to more than 10,000 customers in 14 countries for $99 a month through a “constellation” of launched private satellites orbiting Earth, according to CNET. Starlink’s goal is to cover the whole planet with accessible and high-speed WiFi signal, especially in areas that have had difficulties with connectivity. The Verge reported SpaceX plans to launch almost 12,000 satellites into low Earth orbit.
Satellite traffic will continue to be a problem, especially politically. China worries that Starlink could have killed the astronauts aboard their space station, Tianhe, and now tensions have risen around Musk, a figure who used to be positively prominent in China.
In the past, Elon Musk was well-known for his company Tesla, but now he is facing harsh backlash in the nation. Many users of Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms, criticized the Starlink satellites. According to Business Insider, the Starlink topic has been viewed on Weibo almost 900 million times.
Yet examining the predicament raises another, equally frightening question: what is the impact of the satellites on nocturnal wildlife?
According to Bloom in Doom, Starlink, among other low earth-orbiting satellites, orbits between 160-1000 kilometers above Earth as compared to traditional satellites, which typically orbit above 35,000 kilometers. The article goes into detail about the effects of LEO satellites on wildlife that navigate and migrate with help from celestial bodies. The artificial and very bright lights of the satellites can cause major confusion within migrating populations, disorienting wildlife and wreaking havoc on our ecosystems.
Scientists warn that defunct satellites emit chemicals as they burn in the atmosphere, damaging the ozone layer. With Starlink’s plan to build a mega constellation around the entire planet, using thousands, even tens of thousands of satellites, we might experience another hole in the ozone layer. This brings in a harmful factor for humans, leading to increased risks of cancer and eye damage.
Overall, “space junk,” the term for “artificial material that is orbiting Earth but is no longer functional,” is already rapidly multiplying. The influx of Starlink satellites will only add to the proliferation, posing further harm to our environment, future space ventures and all life on Earth.
Even worse, SpaceX’s Starlink project isn’t the only culprit for potential orbital collisions like the recent occurrence with China’s space station. Crowding low earth orbit with more material, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb Corporation and Telesat also have plans to create constellations of more than 50,000 satellites, according to the World Economic Forum. The risk soars higher with each satellite that is launched, yet there aren’t many regulations in place.
One must ask if high-speed broadband internet for everyone is more important than human and animal lives. Will Musk’s space venture result in destruction of the ozone layer?
One thing is for sure: we shouldn’t wait to find out.