NRAO and SpaceX Coordinate to Protect Radio Astronomy 

Credit: One World Network with NRAO/AUI/NSF

NRAO and SpaceX have engaged in coordinated experiments involving NRAO telescopes and the Starlink satellite constellation for over two years. Early experiments began in late 2021 with the deployment of working Starlink user terminals near the Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico and have continued to the present day. These experiments highlight the ways in which satellite constellations and radio telescopes might be able to coexist, provided there is mutual awareness of what the other is doing.

Supported by the National Science Foundation, NRAO and SpaceX are developing a system called Operational Data Sharing (ODS) that provides the current status (position in the sky and observing frequency) of two of its telescopes: the VLA in New Mexico and the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia. SpaceX is able to incorporate these data into its operational algorithm so that its Starlink satellites can steer their downlink beams away the NRAO telescope “boresight” (where the telescopes are pointed in the sky) at the moment an observation is taking place.  This adaptation helps to ensure critical internet connectivity for users of the Starlink system while protecting and potentially expanding the frequency bands that radio astronomers can use for their research.

For more details on this developing system, see a recent video produced for NRAO by One World Media above.

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