The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has assessed technologies and approaches to evaluate and mitigate the following potential effects:

Increase in orbital debris. Debris in space can damage or destroy satellites, affecting commercial services, scientific observation, and national security.

Better characterizing debris, increasing adherence to operational guidelines, and removing debris are among possible mitigation steps. But achieving these steps is a challenge.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) makes use of powerful solid rocket motors.
Credit: NASA



Emissions into the upper atmosphere. Rocket launches and satellite reentries produce particles and gases that can affect atmospheric temperatures and deplete the ozone layer. Limiting use of rocket engines that produce certain harmful emissions could mitigate the effects. However, the size and significance of these effects are poorly understood due to a lack of observational data, and it is not yet clear if mitigation is warranted.

Starlink constellation pass overhead near Carson National Forest, New Mexico, photographed soon after launch.  
SpaceX Starlink Satellites over Carson National Forest, New Mexico, photographed soon after launch.
Credit: Mike Lewinsky/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Disruption of astronomy. Satellites can reflect sunlight and transmit radio signals that obstruct observations of natural phenomena. Satellite operators and astronomers are beginning to explore ways of mitigating these effects with technologies to darken satellites, and with tools to help astronomers avoid or filter out light reflections or radio transmissions.

However, the efficacy of these techniques remains in question, and astronomers need more data about the satellites to improve mitigations.

To access the full GAO report — Large Constellations of Satellites – Mitigating Environmental and Other Effects, go to:

One Response to “Report: Large Constellations of Satellites -Mitigating Environmental and Other Effects”

  • Alexis Smith says:

    The GAO report provides a comprehensive overview of the potential effects of large constellations of satellites on the environment and on other aspects of life on Earth. The report includes recommendations for mitigating these effects.

Leave a Reply