Update: Megaconstellations in 2023


A year since finishing up my residency I am posting a couple of updates about satellite stats in 2023.

Jonathan McDowell’s Space Activities in 2023
Jan 5, 2024. https://www.planet4589.org/space/

Increasing launches:

    • In 2023 there were 223 orbital launch attempts, and of those 212 reached orbit. This is up from 186 in 2022; 146 in 2021; 114 in 2020; 102 in 2019.

Prominently commercial:

    • Of the 2023 launch attempts, 134 were from commercial companies and for commercial customers, and 78 were from government. The other 11 were contracted by governments and launched by commercial companies.

Leading countries:

    • Deployment of satellites is currently led by USA, China, Russia and Europe, with Japan and India following.

Mostly Comms:

    • Of the satellites launched in 2023 with a mass above 100kg, most are US communication satellites making up mega constellations: 2181 comms satellites (above 100kg) were launched, compared to 67 for Imaging (including weather satellites.)


‘A dynamic shell of conductive material’

‘Potential Perturbation of the Ionosphere by Megaconstellations and Corresponding Artificial Re-entry Plasma Dust’ by S. Solter-Hunt
arXiv, December 6, 2023. http://arxiv.org/abs/2312.09329.

S. Solter-Hunt’s paper describes the alarming potential impact of particles left by satellites in the magnetosphere as they break up on re-entry.

It describes how artificial material left by satellites far outweighs natural quantities of particles in the Earth’s magnetosphere, and the conductive qualities of these satellite materials has the potential to alter the make-up of the magnetosphere which could consequently impact the Earth’s atmosphere.

It states that: “in the 2020s and 2030s, satellites will become so numerous that they will form their own dynamic shell of conductive material.” (Solter-Hunt, 2023, p. 1)

Additionally, Solter-Hunt describes that this is happening at a rate faster than the time it would take to simulate 500,000 satellites in a magnetosphere model.

Therefore: “A simulation of the magnetosphere and the megaconstellations is not currently feasible, and the planetaryscale experiment is underway without a direct ability to diagnose the satellite-magnetosphere relationship because the satellites themselves detect the changes in the magnetic field.” (Solter-Hunt, 2023, p. 1)

The paper concludes: “The space industry on Earth is taking vast amounts of conductive materials naturally found on the surface and in the crust and injecting them into the ionosphere and beyond, causing a new stratification of planetary material.” (Solter-Hunt, 2023, p. 4)


Update: Bike-tenna

In November, I learnt via Open-Weather that one particular satellite, NOAA15, has a damaged sensor causing degraded data that alters the image composition. I wanted to capture this glitch direct from the satellite, so I went to a bit more effort to avoid the noise I was getting using the antenna on my balcony.

Thanks to an engineer friend, I got hold of a V-dipole antenna which I could attach to my bike and take to a nearby open field (previously, and fittingly, the ‘Starlight’ Drive-in cinema) to escape the household and neighbourhood radio interference.

The images received from NOAA15 have fascinating compositions and image qualities that expands to convey interactions between socio-technical actors on a planetary scale: a faulty US government satellite in dialogue with the social structures that allow me access to a laptop, software, antenna, knowledge, and an open field.

An important reference for this work is Open-weather, led by artist duo Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann, whose ‘Nowcast’ project creates a composite set of NOAA images received from participants around the world. In their paper, ‘Open-weather: Speculative-feminist propositions for planetary images in an era of climate crisis‘ (2022) Dyer and Engelmann describe how empowering people to independently conjure a satellite perspective bypasses the weather channels we normally consult to gauge the atmosphere and creates a ‘counter-image’ that shifts satellite imagery from a scientific to social domain.

Update: Signal to Noise

In 2023 I presented ‘Signal to Noise’ at Canberra Contemporary Artspace (CCAS), combining previous works with a series informed by my ANAT Synapse research.

Signal to Noise, 2023. Installation view, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2023. Photograph: Brenton McGeachie.

The major new work, ‘Sent to the sky, received from the stars’ is a military surplus parachute printed on using the cyanotype process. It creates a composite of perspectives of looking up and down to and from satellites, in a form that alludes to position of orbital space as instrumental in both weather, and war.

Sent to the sky, received from the stars, 2023, cyanotype on parachute, nylon, silk, dimensions variable. Installation view, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2023. Photograph: Brenton McGeachie.

The printed imagery creates a composite of satellite streak images found in the Stromlo Observatory Skymapper database and are classified as contaminated data, and decoded signal received from NOAA weather satellites.

Here, combining the images taken from the planetary perspective of the satellite’s gaze with images containing artefacts left by satellites in astronomy sky surveys questions the duality of the satellite to both produce and obstruct environmental data.

Signal to Noise, 2023. Installation view, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, 2023. Photograph: Brenton McGeachie.

Tim Riley Walsh wrote an excellent catalogue for this exhibition which is online here: https://issuu.com/ccas_canberra/docs/anna_madeleine_raupach_-_catalogue

A huge thank you to CCAS and the Mandy Martin Art & Environment Award from CAPO and CLIMARTE for supporting this show.