By: Ashley Parades ’25
People across the world have recently reported seeing alien spaceships flying through the night that look like a string of pearls flying through the sky. While many think this is an alien invasion, it is tens of satellites being launched into Earth’s orbit in a project by SpaceX called Starlink.
On May 23, 2019, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites into Earth’s orbit.
“Over the coming days the ‘train’ of objects will be making 2-3 passes each night as they are actively maneuvering with their ion thrusters, they will be more spread out with each pass, so the ‘train’ will probably quickly dissipate,” Marco Langroek, Netherlands-based satellite tracker, said.
These 2,600-pound (1,200 kg) satellites are made to provide affordable internet access to people around the world—about one-third of the global population currently does not have access to the internet. SpaceX has launched over 3,000 satellites into orbit since, with around 2,800 still functional.
“We’re really getting to parts of the world that are hardest to reach — the most difficult to reach 3 percent, possibly 5 percent,” Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, said.
When launched, these satellites reach an initial orbit of 273 miles (440 km) above Earth and then continue to a final orbit of 342 miles (550 km) above Earth.
Musk is planning on creating a mega constellation—with a goal of 12,000 satellites in orbit by 2026—the amount approved by both the Federal Telecommunications Commission and the International Telecommunications Union. Musk and his team are awaiting permission to extend that number to 42,000. To put that number into perspective, there are currently nearly 6,000 satellites in Earth’s orbit.
“The latency for the Starlink system is similar to latency for ground-based fiber and 5G, so we’re expecting to get latency down under 20 milliseconds,” Musk said.
Starlink projects could generate between $30-50 billion, and Musk plans on using the money to build a Mars-colonizing transportation system. This project will consist of a 100-seater spaceship called “Starship” and a massive rocket named “Super Heavy”.
“SpaceX is only 12 years old now. Between now and 2040, the company’s lifespan will have tripled. If we have a linear improvement in technology, as opposed to logarithmic, then we should have a significant base on Mars, perhaps with thousands or tens of thousands of people,” Musk said.
Similar projects are currently being developed by companies OneWeb, Telesat and Amazon. All are planning on launching thousands of satellites into Earth’s orbit in the upcoming years.
“There is nothing bad about having internet delivered through these satellite mechanisms. But of course, we’re worried about the side effects,” Chris Impey, an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said.
Scientists have concerns about these satellites blocking their view of outer space. They are also worried about the possibility of not being able to detect possible threats to our planet with thousands of satellites in the night sky.
“Although most of these reflections may be so faint that they are hard to pick out with the naked eye, they can be detrimental to the sensitive capabilities of large ground-based astronomical telescopes, including the extreme wide-angle survey telescopes currently under construction. Secondly, despite notable efforts to avoid interfering with radio astronomy frequencies, aggregate radio signals emitted from the satellite constellations can still threaten astronomical observations at radio wavelengths,” a spokesman for the International Astronomical Union (IAU) stated.
So far successful, Starlink is on its way to creating the first artificial mega constellation. This will be a huge advancement in aerospace technology and the start of a new era of space travel.