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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The effects huge constellations of satellites could have on astronomy are starting to come into focus, and astronomers are grappling with what this industrialization of space could mean for the future of their field.

The big picture: Companies like SpaceX and Amazon have plans to launch thousands of internet-beaming satellites to orbit in the coming years.

Where it stands: Satellites can disrupt images taken by powerful telescopes on Earth. In particular, these spacecraft can impede scientists' ability to find dangerous asteroids and distant objects of interest.

  • Scientists now suggest these satellites should be in relatively low orbits because that would keep them out of the field of view for large telescopes for much of the night.
  • Concerns from the scientific community aren’t just focused on streaking satellites in telescope fields of view. Radio astronomers could also face interference from these satellites as they transmit overnight.

The intrigue: Since 2018, SpaceX has launched more than 900 Starlink satellites as part of its constellation, and other companies are racing to catch up. That quick pace hasn’t left much time for astronomers to advocate for their needs.

  • "We need more ground rules up there, in a fairly 'Wild West' environment, as more and more people get into the game," Jeff Hall, of the Lowell Observatory, said during a panel at the American Astronomical Society meeting last week.

What to watch: Astronomers are collaborating with space companies to be sure any interference from their satellites is kept to a minimum.

  • The National Science Foundation and American Astronomical Society have put out a joint report discussing the impact these satellites are having on astronomy, and the International Astronomical Union also has a report on the topic.
  • SpaceX is working on lowering the visibility of their Starlink satellites in a variety of ways, including coating some of them with a material to reduce reflectivity.
  • A study in December showed these "DarkSats" are about half as reflective as earlier Starlink satellites launched by SpaceX. The company is also experimenting with other methods that could further reduce their reflectivity.

Go deeper

Virgin Orbit launches satellites into space

The Virgin Orbit "Cosmic Girl," carrying a LauncherOne rocket under it's wing, takes off for the Launch Demo 2 mission from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, on Sunday/ Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket reached space and successfully deployed 10 payloads for NASA's Launch Services Program on Sunday, Richard Branson's company announced.

Why it matters: Per Axios' Miriam Kramer, Virgin Orbit is one of several private spaceflight companies aiming to capitalize on what they believe is a boom in demand for small spacecraft launches.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.

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