SpaceX has launched a new generation of Starlink satellites with optical space lasers and reduced light pollution technologies. They will provide faster data transfer and also reduce light pollution in the night sky.
On September 25, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 21 Starlink satellites from Space Launch Center 4 East (SLC-4E) at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The launch added new generation satellites to the existing Starlink satellite internet constellation. On Tuesday, SpaceX announced that its Starlink constellation now consists of more than 8,000 space lasers. These lasers allow satellites to connect over thousands of kilometers beyond the reach of ground stations.
New Starlink technology maintains pointing accuracy, delivering data rates of up to 100 Gbps on each channel. This network will enable the company to offer high-quality global coverage, including services to remote maritime and aviation customers.
In addition, the satellites, which were launched on Monday, are made using new technology and will reduce light pollution in the night sky. The latest generation of Starlink satellites have special dielectric (non-conducting) mirrors installed, which reduce their visibility. In addition to the surface of the satellite body, a lot of light is reflected from the solar modules, and the back of the modules is illuminated as a kind of lampshade.
Therefore, the back is painted black, which does not allow light to pass through. The front panel uses a dark red color (previously: white) between the solar cells. Parabolic antennas for communication with Earth’s surface are coated with special black paint.
The new satellites also accurately record the moment of crossing the “terminator” (the day/night boundary on Earth) and fold the solar modules upward, so that the front part is no longer visible from Earth. This off-pointing maneuver results in a 25% reduction in available power for the satellite. Despite this cost, SpaceX has specifically designed the second-generation satellite to be able to accommodate this significant power reduction to minimize brightness as viewed from the ground. At certain stages of flight, especially during satellite deployment and approaching their respective target orbit, Starlink satellites will still be visible, but the company is working with astronomers to make further improvements here too.