Satellite “BlueWalker 3” is one of the brightest objects in the sky – and will soon be visible over Germany

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The “BlueWalker 3” satellite was launched in September 2022 along with “Starlink” satellites. (File Image) © Imago/Joe Marino

BlueWalker 3 is the largest commercial satellite in orbit. The astronomy community fears the impact on the night sky.

Frankfurt – When the private aerospace company SpaceX launched the first “Starlink” satellites into space, it sparked outrage in the astronomy community: The bright satellites can be clearly seen in the sky and – although SpaceX has since made improvements – interfere with the research sensitive.

Now there is a new satellite in orbit that is significantly brighter than the “Starlink” satellites: “BlueWalker 3”. It started in September along with a “Starlink” fleet and is now fully developed, the operating company AST SpaceMobile reports.

BlueWalker 3 satellite is brighter than the Starlink satellites

However, astronomers noted that “BlueWalker 3” had unfolded even before the official announcement: the satellite was brightening – this was noticed by researchers on Twitter, even before AST SpaceMobile confirmed the implementation. According to astronomers, the brightness of the satellite has now increased by a factor of 40 – according to reports in the US portal space weather gallery reach a magnitude of +1. Only about 15 stars, five planets and the moon would then be brighter than the satellite.

“This is exactly what astronomers don’t want,” astronomer Meredith Rawls of the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Center for Protecting Dark and Quiet Skies from Disturbance by Satellite Constellations tells science.org. “It will show up as a very bright streak in images,” said Rawls, who worries that observatory cameras could be overwhelmed by the brightness.

“BlueWalker 3” should enable a mobile phone network in space

The 64 square meter “BlueWalker 3” is the largest commercial satellite to orbit the Earth to date and is significantly brighter than the “Starlink” satellites. It is the prototype for a constellation of 168 even larger “BlueBird” satellites with which AST SpaceMobile wants to build a space-based GSM network. The plan is for smartphones to come into direct contact with the satellites instead of transmitting signals via cell towers. Because of this, the satellites have huge reflective antennas that flash brightly as they orbit the Earth.

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Bright “BlueWalker 3” satellite disrupts astronomy

The bright objects raise eyebrows, especially among astronomers who use ground-based telescopes to scan the skies for potentially dangerous asteroids. But radio astronomers also fear that the new service’s radio signals could disrupt their work. There are special areas of the earth where the operation of radio transmitters is severely restricted in order to improve the radio reception of radio telescopes. In addition, certain frequencies are reserved for radio astronomy. For space, however, no such regulations exist.

For this reason, radio astronomers have filed a complaint with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The authority has issued an experimental license for “BlueWalker 3”, but no decision has yet been made on the planned fleet of larger “BlueBird” satellites.

While it’s unclear what will happen next with the planned “BlueBird” satellites, the prototype “BlueWalker 3” will continue to orbit the Earth. It can also be seen from Germany in good weather, as data on the website Heavens Above to show. (tab)

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