[ASA] AAS Survey of Ground-Based Telescope Directors about Satellite Constellations

John O'Byrne john.obyrne at sydney.edu.au
Tue Dec 10 11:25:57 AEDT 2019

The following email is directed to major observatories rather then individual astronomers, but I think it will be of obvious interest to all ASA members:

Dear colleagues,

The future of optical ground-based observations stands to be seriously impacted by the dramatic increase in low earth orbiting satellites in the coming years. The trend in the satellite communications industry of launching mega-constellations will lead to 1-2 orders of magnitude more bright moving objects in the sky. As you know, there is no statutory or regulatory framework outside the radio bands. The AAS has been in contact with SpaceX since early June and these discussions keep coming back to the need to quantify some sort of observational threshold for OIR interference.  In other words, what figures of merit would SpaceX and other operators need to hit for their impact on OIR observations to be considered minimal?

Toward the goal of helping quantify what our community can reasonably ask of these satellite operators, the AAS Committee on Light Pollution, Space Debris, and Radio Interference is conducting a survey of research observatories to assess the scale of impact these constellations will have on the scientific campaigns for current and future observatories and to help us better understand more specifically how different observatories and their suites of telescopes, instruments, and observing modes could be impacted assuming no changes in current corporate plans. The results of this survey will inform our discussions with SpaceX that we expect will lead to engineering and operational changes to the Starlink constellation, subject to the constraints of the company’s business plan of course. We hope that other companies will be as receptive to input as SpaceX has been so far. We are also exploring whether it would be beneficial to organize a workshop in mid-2020 in order to gather our community and the commercial operators for face-to-face discussions of the problems and possible solutions.

It will help our efforts greatly if you could complete the survey at
https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/EKL3C3Q8Z2FnOonkSgQ9SW?domain=aas.org<https://protect-au.mimecast.com/s/dcdxC4QZ1RFXqEXVfxdbG7?domain=protect-au.mimecast.com> by 19 December.  Please forward this survey to anyone we may have missed.

The timeline is short because we plan to present preliminary results of the survey during a special session at the AAS Winter Meeting in Honolulu. The session will also feature other presentations on estimated impacts and SpaceX senior management has agreed to participate.

Please direct your questions to public.policy at aas.org<mailto:public.policy at aas.org>.

Thank you,

Megan Donahue
AAS President
donahu42 at msu.edu<mailto:donahu42 at msu.edu>

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