Technology The assault on space intensifies

The assault on space intensifies

Like every weekend Mathilde Fontez, editor-in-chief ofEpsiloon offers us a topical science subject with today, the constellations of satellites.

franceinfo: A new constellation of satellites will be launched towards Earth’s orbit, is it that of Amazon?

Mathilde Fontez: Yes, this is it. The information fell last week. Mail order and cloud giant Amazon will launch its own constellation of satellites. So it starts small: the request that has been filed with the American body, which regulates launches, concerns two experimental satellites which should be launched in 2022. But Jeff Bezos’ project, his name is Kuiper, is at end of launching 3,236!

And Amazon is not the only one …

Indeed, billionaire Jeff Bezos has been left behind by his lifelong competitor, Elon Musk. With the company Starlink, he has already sent more than 1,700 satellites into orbit, and he plans to send more than 41,000! In fact, it is a real revolution happening over our heads, in a very short time. It started in February 2019, with the first launch of another company, OneWeb.

And right now it’s the frenzy: 100 satellites have been flying on average every month since the beginning of the year. While 2020 had already been a banner year in all of space history, with 114 launches in total. These deployments have doubled the number of active satellites in orbit. They are now more than 4000. And it is expected that 10 times more objects than since the start of the space age in 1957, will be launched into space in the next 10 years!

Why all these satellites?

To provide access to high speed internet anywhere in the world. Even in areas that are not covered. It should be remembered that 49% of the world population is still completely cut off from the web. These networks of satellites in orbit will be able to guarantee connection everywhere, without pulling any wire.

So, we often talk about a philanthropic goal: to reduce the global digital divide, to allow the development of Africa in particular, by finally connecting the continent to the Internet. But it is above all a question of offering the Internet to those who can afford it: it is in fact a question of filling in the white areas of industrialized countries. This market is huge.

And these thousands of satellites are a problem?

Yes, they pose a multitude of new problems and new questions. They reflect sunlight and dazzle telescopes. They overload the eye sockets. They may cause a shower of debris. For those who have seen the film Gravity, we’re not that far away.

The Starlink constellation orbits just 150 km above the International Space Station. And what worries is that there is no regulation. No law up there. This is the rule of first come, first served. The space has become a kind of wild west …

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