More than a year after the launch of BlueWalker 3, detailed analysis confirms that the giant satellite is now one of the brightest objects in the night sky. At the same time, it raises concerns about plans for future satellite constellations. This was reported by an international research group whose results have now been presented in the scientific journal Nature. Accordingly, BlueWalker 3 was so bright last fall and again at the beginning of April that it would have been one of the ten brightest stars. This means it was hundreds of times brighter than what the International Astronomical Union recommends for satellites.
Brighter than almost all stars
BlueWalker 3 is an AST SpaceMobile test satellite designed to prepare for the creation of “the first and only space-based broadband network for traditional smartphones.” In the future, at least 100 giant satellites will orbit the Earth and provide underserved areas with broadband Internet. The satellite was launched on September 10, 2022, and was fully launched two months later. The satellite is designed to connect directly to traditional smartphones to provide broadband Internet connectivity. The unfolded antenna has an area of 64 square meters and partially reflects sunlight back to the ground and is therefore wonderfully bright. This antenna is the largest on a commercial communications satellite in low Earth orbit.
Overall, the analysis shows that there are “no limits” when it comes to satellite brightness. Nature quotes astronomer Patrick Setzer. The research group determined that BlueWalker 3 has now reached an apparent brightness of 0.4 mG. This is brighter than initial studies suggested. The satellite was monitored from locations in Chile, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Morocco. The research team also confirmed that the brightness of the giant satellite in the night sky fluctuates, as it shined particularly brightly on November 10, 2022 and April 3, 2023.
The concerns about the night sky that the group supports are not new; Since the creation of SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet, it has always been pointed out that this makes observations more difficult. There are also plans to create other large constellations consisting of hundreds or even thousands of satellites, for example from Amazon. BlueWalker 3 and the other giant satellite constellations planned by operator AST SpaceMobile are in a class all their own. Just like SpaceX before it, this company also promised to work with experts to reduce the brightness of its satellites. There was now a co-author of this The study presented Praise indeed. The next giant satellites are scheduled to be launched as early as 2024.
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