We are about to have a new star, one that could dwarf all other objects in the night sky except for the moon: a giant Internet satellite the size of a typical New York studio, so that ordinary cell phones can access the Internet from space.
Just a few years ago, something this brilliant would have meant something very different. A distant supernova, perhaps, that would have made us look up to reflect on our very existence and our place in the eternal cosmos. Or maybe a comet, heralding terrible or great news that humans have been whispering as they have for millennia.
It might even have been a jaw-dropping giant new space station, a space odyssey structure to usher in a new era of exploration and excitement on our way to Mars and the Jovian moons.
But today, a blinding new point of light on the celestial sphere has nothing to do with the infinite star field that has captured our collective imagination since the dawn of consciousness – the giant nuclear forges that exploded ago. eons, millions of light-years away.
The stars created the very matter that makes us all and everything around us. They are also an integral part of our culture, our psyche and our personal and collective myths. The stars are everywhere and we are all “stars”.
There are nothing of this celestial marvel in this new thing. Its giant antenna and solar panels will reflect sunlight back to us in the middle of the night, adding coarse man-made noise to our favorite eternal landscape and ruining the view of terrestrial telescopes around the world.
Its name is BlueWalker 3, and it’s made of glass and metal alloys by a communications startup called AST SpaceMobilewho is from the Great State of Texas, the dry version of Florida where everything is huge, as the CEO of AST posts on Twitter.
Made in Texas – size matters! #BlueWalker3The 693 square foot network is said to be the largest commercial communications network ever in LEO. We are building the first and only cellular broadband network in space backed by 2,400 patent and patent pending claims. Removal of pre-flight beacons today!!! ???????????????? #5G??????? pic.twitter.com/Vx4oNVNYCK
— Abel Avellan (@AbelAvellan) August 31, 2022
Blue Walker 3 launch today folded atop a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from a launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Once unfolded in orbit, it will become a 693 square foot flat machine, a giant phased array antenna designed to provide high-speed internet access to people on the ground.
In terms of UX alone, the project is impressive. Unlike SpaceX’s own Starlink internet satellites, BlueWalker 3 won’t require users to install a dish and a red space.ter on the ground to access the web. AST says it will be the “the first and only global cellular broadband network in space to work directly with standard unmodified mobile devices” based on its “extensive IP and patent portfolio”.
You will only have to sign up for the service and you will have access to TikTok wherever there is coverage using any 4G or 5G phone. Which sounds good if you don’t consider the consequences.
Astronomers from the Vera C. Rubin Observatory and the International Astronomical Union Center for Protecting Dark, Calm Skies from Satellite Constellation Interference believe that this giant new communications satellite will ruin our skies and interfere with celestial observations, just as Starlink does.
They are right. Sure, Elon Musk fired them at the time, but the effect of these constellations has been widely documented.
This trend will only get worse. AST plans to put several of these satellites into low Earth orbit: more than 100 spacecraft by the end of 2024. Many of them will be even larger, reflecting even more sunlight back to Earth at all hours of the day. This is in addition to Starlink’s current constellation, which already includes 3,000 satellites, a number that exceed 30,000.
The sky belongs to all of us
These satellites are an appropriation of a public good. Space does not belong to anyone; it belongs to everyone. And it’s been that way since we’ve been around.
Allowing Musk, Bezos, AST and the rest of those corporations to literally invade our only view of the universe with tens of thousands of satellites and giant antennas ignores a source of pollution that is blinding our view of the cosmos.
here’s how CEO of the European Space Agency Joseph Aschbacher describes the existence of Musk’s satellites in FinancialTimes: “You have a person who owns half of the active satellites in the world. It’s quite incredible. De facto, it is he who makes the rules. The rest of the world including Europe. . . just not responding fast enough.
AST, Stellar Link, and that of Amazon Kuiper Project justify their actions with the exact same claim as their reason for being: TTheir mission is “to eliminate the connectivity gaps faced by today’s five billion mobile subscribers and finally bring broadband to the billions who are still unconnected”.
And yes, having Internet access everywhere is good. It is a powerful educational and business tool that can benefit many people living in remote and poor areas. It may even help a country stop illegal invasion from another country.
All of the above is true, but these points are part of a fallacious argument. The thing is, we can also spend the money to build the antenna ground infrastructure to provide those same services, which can also be resilient. It just requires a bigger investment and profits are not as scalable as private companies would like.
But we can do it without destroying something that has been with us for tens of thousands of years.
These companies are stealing what was ours since the dawn of time without asking anyone first, just to sell comfort. From microwave dinners to canned recipes to food and grocery delivery apps, like 2-year-olds, we just want to have it all immediately, which means being able to use TikTok in the middle of your desert hike to show off your new jacket and pants. At present. Not when you’re back home. It must be now. Even if it means you’ll ruin the the same dark sky you traveled for miles to see.
It seems to me that all of us should have a say in this. That this giant satellite that might shine brighter than any star is a call to action. That maybe it’s time to say enough, to stop, to take a stand and say, “No, you’ve already trashed the face of the planet in the name of profit. let’s not touch our stars too.
AST did not respond to our request for comment at the time of publication.