An illustration of a large satellite constellation. Daniëlle Futselaar.

Radiation from satellite constellations affects astronomy

New radio astronomy research validates the existence of unwanted electromagnetic radiation from large satellite constellations.


Did you know that radiation from satellite constellations orbiting the Earth affects astronomy? Novel radio astronomical assessments have verified the presence of undesirable electromagnetic radiation originating from sizable satellite constellations. Scientists from top-tier research institutes, including Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, leveraged the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope to observe 68 of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The team discerned “unwanted electromagnetic radiation” from the satellites’ onboard electronics, separate from the communications transmissions traditionally of interest to radio astronomers.

Radiation from satellite constellations affects astronomy

The recent discovery prompts an intensified scientific appraisal of other satellite systems, as this unanticipated radiation could hinder astronomical research. The study’s authors urge both satellite operators and regulators to weigh this effect on radio astronomy when planning spacecraft development and accompanying regulatory procedures.

Astronomers seeking faint cosmic signals have consistently grappled with man-made radio signals that can overpower those from celestial sources. Consequently, many radio telescopes are stationed in areas with special radio protections to shield against terrestrial interference.

Some even exist within radio-quiet zones upheld by national regulators. The advent of large satellite constellations designed for broadband internet access or Earth observation introduces a new challenge. With multitudes of satellites in low Earth orbit, any radio telescope could have multiple satellites emitting signals in its view at all times. The revelation of additional non-communication sources is new and warrants deeper investigation.

Unveiling Satellite Constellations’ Impact

“This research is the latest initiative to comprehend the effect of satellite constellations on radio astronomy,” stated lead author Federico Di Vruno. “Previous workshops on Dark and Quiet Skies speculated about this radiation, and our findings confirm it can be quantified.” Di Vruno is the co-director of the International Astronomical Union’s Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference (IAU CPS) and spectrum manager for the SKA Observatory (SKAO). The remaining authors are active members of the CPS.


Di Vruno and his team initially centered on SpaceX satellites, as the company had the largest fleet of satellites — over 2000 — in orbit at the time of observation. They acknowledged that SpaceX is not the only operator of such large satellite constellations, anticipating similar unintended emissions from other low-Earth-orbiting satellites. Additional measurement work targeting other satellite constellations is already in progress.

LOFAR Findings and Future Implications

“Using LOFAR, we discerned radiation between 110 and 188 MHz from 47 out of the 68 observed satellites. This frequency range includes a protected band between 150.05 and 153 MHz specifically designated for radio astronomy by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU),” shared co-author Cees Bassa from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy. SpaceX isn’t breaching any rules, as this type of radiation from satellites isn’t governed by international regulation. On the contrary, terrestrial equipment is regulated by stringent rules to prevent mutual interference.

The authors also modeled this effect from several satellite constellations. “Our simulations indicate that the larger the constellation, the more significant this effect becomes as the satellites’ radiation accumulates. This raises concerns about the existing constellations, even more so about the planned ones, and the lack of clear regulation protecting radio astronomy bands from unintended radiation,” noted co-author Benjamin Winkel from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Germany.

Engaging with SpaceX and Looking Ahead

The authors maintain a close relationship with SpaceX, and the company has pledged to continue discussions on how to alleviate any negative effects on astronomy. SpaceX has already implemented changes to its next generation of satellites to minimize the impact of these unexpected emissions on key astronomical projects.

While SpaceX’s cooperation sets a standard, engagement from other satellite operators is also paramount. Astronomers are seeking to enhance collaboration and involvement with the space industry and regulators to avert the consequences of this unforeseen effect on astronomical observations.


Dr. Józsa, a member of the Rhodes Centre for Radio Astronomy Techniques & Technologies (RATT), led by Professor Oleg Smirnov, highlighted: “We believe the early recognition of this situation allows astronomy and large constellation operators to proactively work together on technical mitigations, alongside the necessary discussions to formulate suitable regulations.”

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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