Some SpaceX Starlink satellites are reportedly leaking low-frequency radio waves, which scientists say could impact astronomical research.
Scientists used the Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope in the Netherlands to observe the type of electromagnetic radiation from satellites in large constellations for what they said was the first time.
“Unintended electromagnetic radiation” emanating from onboard electronics in Starlink satellites was detected which could impact astronomical research, according to a recent release from the International Astronomical Union.
In a study published in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics,” scientists from multiple international institutions used the telescope to observe 68 Starlink satellites.
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While communications transmissions had been the primary focus for radio astronomers, the authors concluded that they detected the radiation emanating from electronics onboard the satellites.
The authors said this discovery is novel and warrants further investigation.
The authors initially focused on SpaceX satellites, because it had the most in orbit – more than 2,000 – at the time of the observations.
However, the release said they recognized that SpaceX is not the only operator of large satellite constellations, and that they expect to find similar unintended emissions from other low-Earth-orbiting satellites.
A co-author, Cees Bassa from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, said the LOFAR had detected radiation between 110 and 188 megahertz from 47 of the 68 satellites that were observed, included a frequency range that includes a protected band between 150.05 and 153 megahertz that is specifically allocated to radio astronomy by the International Telecommunications Union.
However, SpaceX is not violating any rules, as this kind of radiation is not covered by any international regulation for satellites.
The authors also performed simulations of this effect from several satellite constellations and the release said they were in close contact with the Elon Musk-led company, which has reportedly offered to continue to discuss possible ways to mitigate any adverse impacts on astronomy.
“As part of its design iteration, SpaceX has already introduced changes to its next generation of satellites which could mitigate the impact of these unintended emissions on important astronomical projects,” the release noted, saying that SpaceX’s approach to collaborating with astronomers is “setting an example.”
The union called for participation from other satellite operators.
“We believe that the early recognition of this situation gives astronomy and large constellation operators an opportunity to work together on technical mitigations pro-actively, in parallel to the necessary discussions to develop suitable regulations,” co-author Gyula Józsa, from Rhodes University in South Africa, said.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to FOX Business’ multiple requests for comment.
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