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What would be a good secondary purpose for SpaceX Starlink satellites?

Image credit: Mark Handley / University College London

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 25, 2021
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What could SpaceX include on the Starlink satellites to make them useful for more than just providing internet access?

Starlink is a satellite constellation being constructed by SpaceX in order to provide worldwide internet access. As of early 2021, SpaceX has launched over 1000 satellites. The total number is aimed at 12000 with a possible extension to 42000.

What other potential applications could Starlink satellites be used for?
Creative contributions

Inbound asteroid detection

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 25, 2021
The ability to simultaneously look into every direction sounds right for an Inbound asteroid detection
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Cataloging space debris

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 25, 2021
Cataloging and positioning space debris
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Radio telescopes for detection of quasars, pulsars, and black holes

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jan 25, 2021
As per this tweet

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Redistribution of a ground-based emergency protocol

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Feb 08, 2021
The Starlink constellation could retransmit emergency messages send by any compatible device. Local authorities would receive the distress signals within the area.
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Create a protective shield around the Earth to alleviate the impact of incoming meteoroids, asteroid, etc.

Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Jul 20, 2021
The Earth has been bombarded with meteorites in the past and could be in the future, too. The Starlink satellite constellation could create a shield of some sort (maybe use lasers or electric or magnetic field; something that works in space) to protect the Earth from incoming bodies from outer space.

They may destroy the meteorites or change their trajectory so that they do not hit the Earth.

Or, the constellation could use a magnetic field to sway the Earth slightly away from its trajectory to avoid being hit by the meteorites.
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SpaceX maps and Tesla street views

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Mar 21, 2022
An alternative to Google Maps (and street views), Starlink satellites could be used to maintain a map of the world and update it on a daily basis.
If the cameras/views on Tesla cars could be improved they could be used to keep an up-to-date street view of the world.
Google would have a hard time competing with both.
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Super-precise weather forecast

jnikola Jul 19, 2021
In these disturbing times of radical climate change, we need a better weather forecast. There are many reasons for that, ranging from personal (what to wear, how to plan a vacation, etc) to general (better event organization, agricultural planning, and preparation to drought, prevention of wildfires and catastrophes caused by extreme weather, etc). If we had better weather forecasts, we would save a tremendous amount of money .

How could we do it?
Conventional forecasting consists of tracking multiple parameters such as humidity, temperatures of the land and waters, the speed and direction of winds, both, on land (ground weather stations) and high in the atmosphere (radiosondes and satellites).

By having thousands of high-tech satellites in the atmosphere, capable of obtaining various data, and having the Internet network establishment as their primary goal, we have a perfect tool for fast real-time weather monitoring. Coupled with strong computers and self-feeding AI systems, we could forecast the weather with high precision and sensitivity.


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Search for extraterrestrial intelligence

Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 19, 2021
With so many satellites surrounding the Earth, radio signals coming from any direction in the universe could be simultaneously detected. Radio telescopes on earth operating for the purpose of search for ETI signals, such as Breakthrough Listen can only detect signals coming from a limited area of the sky, the Starlink system could act as one giant 360 degrees radio telescope.

The complication might be the mass to strength ratio of radiotelescopes. To fit a huge, powerful radiotelescope on every single satellite is infeasible since the system is intended for a different primary purpose, but attaching even small radiotelescopes to the satellites could be beneficial having in mind the number of satellites and the area they'll cover. In terms of the listening angle, such a system would beat any stationary ground telescope.

ETI signals are just one way of searching for extraterrestrial life. 360 feature of the Starlink system could also aid that search in other ways, e.g. help filter out the planets within the habitable circumstellar zones. Different instruments would need to be installed in the satellites according to the chosen approach. Various methods could also be combined, but being a secondary purpose it can't overburden the system with excessive gear.

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