Elon Musk Says SpaceX 'Fixing' Brightness of Starlink Satellites After They Appear as String of Pearls in Night Sky

Elon Musk has said his rocket company SpaceX is "fixing" the brightness of its satellites, after the low orbit spacecraft recently became increasingly visible from the ground.

The CEO explained on Twitter this week that the angle of solar panels on satellites from its Starlink mission had left them more noticeable. Images and video footage of the crafts spiked on social media this week as users across the world spotted a train of glowing lights in the skies above.

"We are taking some key steps to reduce satellite brightness," Musk wrote. "Should be much less noticeable during orbit raise by changing solar panel angle and all sats get sunshades starting with launch 9." The BBC reported the craft currently being seen are from a launch in March.

The Starlink project is intending to deliver "high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable," SpaceX explained on Twitter yesterday following the deployment of 60 new satellites from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Astronomer Adrian West, known on Twitter as VirtualAstro, has referred to the Starlink satellites as the "string of pearls" while keeping a close eye on the trajectory of craft passing over the U.K.

Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/h3e6QmKRue

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 22, 2020

#spaceX #starlink live from #Kosovo. pic.twitter.com/MXkVWT4iZt

— Astrit Spanca (@astritspanca776) April 19, 2020

TONIGHT#Starlink 5 pass at 22:12 for the whole of the UK - Not the brightest, but should be visible.#Starlink 6 "String of Pearls". May just be visible around 9pm only in the south - May not be visible but worth a look

New Moon so lay back look up and enjoy the night sky

— VirtualAstro (@VirtualAstro) April 23, 2020

SpaceX said the seventh launch of Starlink satellites on Wednesday took place at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) and were sent up in the Falcon 9, a partially-reusable rocket that SpaceX engineers landed back on the "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship nine minutes after lift off, SpaceNews reported.

Falcon 9 previously supported the company's first flight to the International Space Station, a launch of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission and the fourth Starlink mission.

On Twitter, Musk said there are now at least 420 operational Starlink satellites in orbit. The project was given permission to launch a 12,000-strong constellation of the craft in November 2018. And since then, Musk has reportedly sought regulatory approval to launch at least 30,000 more into space.

SpaceX previously said internet service from the satellites could start rolling out in the U.S. and Canada in 2020, before expanding to "near global coverage of the populated world" in 2021.

Musk noted yesterday, responding to another Twitter comment, that a private beta of the coverage will start in about three months while a public beta will take place in approximately six months.

Private beta begins in ~3 months, public beta in ~6 months, starting with high latitudes

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2020

The "fixing" of the Starlink satellites will likely be welcome news to astronomers, who have previously complained the barrage of bright lights were obscuring their images, Vox reported.

In documentation, SpaceX stresses its satellites are not just high-tech, but sustainable. Each Starlink satellite weights approximately 260 k.g. and is made to reach an altitude of 550 k.m.

"Starlink satellites are on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation, meeting or exceeding all regulatory and industry standards. At the end of their life cycle, the satellites will utilize their on-board propulsion system to deorbit over the course of a few months," the company says.

"In the unlikely event their propulsion system becomes inoperable, the satellites will burn up in Earth's atmosphere within 1-5 years, significantly less than the hundreds or thousands of years required at higher altitudes. Starlink components are designed for full demisability."

Earlier this month, Nasa confirmed astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley are scheduled to fly to the International Space Station (ISS) on the SpaceX Crew Dragon craft, lifting off on a Falcon 9 rocket, on the afternoon of May 27. "A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin," the agency said.