SpaceX Starlink satellites pass over UK this week: when to spot them

A computer-generated image from several long-exposure images shows Starlink satellites in the sky above the concrete base of a former heating plant in Salgotarjan, Hungary (Credits: EPA)

Last weekend SpaceX successfully launched its latest batch of 58 Starlink satellites into orbit.

The small satellites are designed to daisy-chain together and beam internet signal down across the globe. At the moment, there are 538 up there in orbit.

If all goes to plan, SpaceX will eventually have 12,000 of them circling the planet.

Starlink satellites are joined together in ‘trains’ that can be seen from Earth on a clear night. This week, the satellites will pass over the UK giving eager skywatchers a perfect opportunity to spot them.

The satellites appear as a chain of lights moving swiftly across the sky. Spotting them can be tricky as you’ll need to let your eyes adjust to the darkness.

Here are the times to be outside looking up to see them pass over the UK this week.

  • Tuesday, 16th June: 10:45 pm
  • Wednesday, 17th June: 12.21am, 10.02pm, 11.21pm
  • Thursday, 18th June: 10:21 pm
Starlink satellites moving across the night sky (Astrit Spanca)

If you want to follow a live map of the Starlink satellites, you can do so on the Find Starlink website here.

You can also put in your location to find times of future passes to make sure you don’t miss them.

How do Starlink satellites work?

Each satellite has four antennas on board (Picture: Starlink)
The satellites draw their power from the sun (Picture: Starlink)

Starlink’s ultimate aim is to beam down internet signal across the planet.

SpaceX ultimately plans to put 12,000 of them in orbit.

Each Starlink satellite is equipped with four powerful phased array antennas that are capable of an enormous amount of throughput when it comes to radio waves. Therefore, internet signal can be communicated up to a satellite and spread out through the network before being fired back down again to any location on Earth.

Delivering internet via satellite is much more efficient because the signal travels 47% faster as a wave through the vacuum of space than it does being channelled along a fibre optic cable buried in the ground.

From an infrastructure perspective, it also means there’s no need to lay vast amounts of cabling across parts of the world.

Current satellites sending internet signals are around 22,236 miles (35,786 km) above the Earth. This results in a time delay in sending and receiving data. Starlink satellites are smaller and orbit closer, meaning they can carry and triangulate data much faster.

Elon Musk has said the Starlink network would be able to provide ‘minor’ internet coverage after 400 spacecraft were up and in orbit and ‘moderate’ coverage after about 800 satellites became operational.

On board each satellite is a powerful Ion propulsion system and a custom-built in-house navigation sensor.

An on-board sensor looks out for space junk (Picture: Starlink)
An ion propulsion system lets the satellite get into position (Picture: Starlink)

Together the two are able to automatically steer the satellites out of the way of space junk.

It also helps guide the satellites to the optimum position for delivering data transfer.

According to SpaceX, enough satellites may be in place by the end of 2020 to start supplying a limited amount of internet signal to some parts of the US and Canada.

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