Context: An international team of scientists has published a paper that outlines the impact of the prototype BlueWalker 3 satellite on astronomy.
About BlueWalker 3:
- It is a prototype satellite, a part of a planned constellation of over a hundred similar satellites intended to deliver mobile or broadband services anywhere in the world.
- The approximately 1.5-ton satellite will deploy a 10-meter diameter phased array antenna, comprising numerous identical sub-antenna modules with a total area of 64 square meters. These modules will connect directly to standard mobile phones.
- It was launched into low-Earth orbit in 2022 by AST SpaceMobile, a U.S.-based company.
- It is considered the largest commercial antenna system ever deployed in low-Earth orbit.
- The satellite is among the brightest objects in the sky reaching a peak comparable to that of Procyon and Achernar, two of the brightest stars in the night sky.
- Its remarkable brightness results from a massive phased-array antenna, making it appear like a giant mirror reflecting sunlight from Earth’s perspective.
- Bluewalker 3’s large size and bright reflective surfaces could interfere with astronomical observations, as its light could be mistaken for stars or interfere with the ability to detect dimmer objects.
- The satellite’s large size could block out a portion of the night sky, making it difficult for astronomers to observe certain objects.
- It actively transmits at radio frequencies that are close to bands reserved for radio astronomy, which may hamper radio telescope observations.