In the sky and on the ground: Starlink’s satellite Internet now spans almost the entire world. This is not only fun – because the signals from the ground stations influence important measurement results.
In September 2022, Elon Musk and his Internet company Starlink cracked the magic number – more than a million ground stations have now been manufactured, the boss announced personally via Twitter. Together with more than 3300 active satellites, the company should now span the globe, even if it does not yet offer its services in every country. Where Starlink is active, however, the ground stations lead to unexpected problems in connection with weather forecasts, as the Dutch news portal “Nu.nl” reports.
A Starlink station looks like water vapor
“Nu.nl” talked about it with Ad Stoffelen, a satellite researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI. Stoffel explained that a high density of Starlink terminals would prevent weather satellites from taking measurements – and that the increasing number of receiving stations was therefore a concern for him.
A Starlink terminal can be seen on the weather maps as a bright spot, which otherwise only appears when there is a lot of water vapor in the air, explains the scientist. The natural radiation from water vapor is said to be “almost equivalent to the radio signal from a Starlink dish.” That’s not easy to change, says Stoffelen.
As a result, this mixing of signals leads to inaccurate weather forecasts, he continues to complain. This is also due to the fact that forecasts depend, among other things, on measurements on the ocean and the poles, around which, according to the researcher, more and more terminals are appearing.
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In fact, other scientists are finding more and more pleasure in the high-speed Internet in these remote locations. Last September, the National Science Foundation NSF reported that McMurdo, the largest research and logistics station in Antarctica, is now working with Starlink.
However, Starlink Maritim, a mobile reception solution for ships, yachts and floating platforms that Starlink presented last summer (satellite Internet has never been so expensive), could be responsible for the disturbances in the oceans.
No satisfactory solution found
Ad Stoffelen further explained that they are considering excluding locations with a Starlink dish from the measurements. However, he and other meteorologists are not satisfied with this workaround: Fewer locations mean less measurement data – and ultimately less precise weather forecasts.
According to “Nu.nl”, Starlink is therefore also a topic at expert conferences. However, Elon Musk’s company is not solely responsible, even if it currently accounts for the lion’s share in terms of numbers. Competitors such as Oneweb have also announced that they intend to provide Internet access to remote areas of the planet.
This is apparently also due to lucrative offers from governments that have an interest in getting fast and reliable reception in areas like the Arctic. This seems to mean great challenges for the weather forecasts of the future.
Sources: Verge, NSF, Satellitemap, Starlink
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