A geomagnetic storm destroys 40 Starlink satellites.

Vir­tu­al­ly all of the Star­link inter­net satel­lites that a SpaceX Fal­con 9 rock­et car­ried beyond the atmos­phere on Feb­ru­ary 3 will not reach their intend­ed orbit.

SpaceX has revealed that a geo­mag­net­ic storm that took place a day after liftoff severe­ly impact­ed the satel­lites, and up to 40 of them will re-enter or have already re-entered Earth­’s atmos­phere. The Unit­ed States Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey describes geo­mag­net­ic storms as peri­ods of “rapid mag­net­ic field vari­a­tion” usu­al­ly caused by a strong surge of solar winds.

These storms can dam­age elec­tron­ics and orbit­ing satel­lites. In this par­tic­u­lar case, it warmed the atmos­phere and caused atmos­pher­ic drag – or the fric­tion act­ing against the motion of the satel­lites – up to 50% more than pre­vi­ous launches.

SpaceX said its Star­link team tried to save the new­ly deployed satel­lites by putting them into safe mode, which adjusts their motion so they fly like a sheet of paper, to min­i­mize drag. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the increased drag pre­vent­ed satel­lites from exit­ing safe mode.

De-orbit­ed satel­lites pose no col­li­sion risk, SpaceX said, will burn up com­plete­ly when they re-enter the atmos­phere, and cre­ate no orbital debris. No part of the satel­lite should touch the ground. “This unique sit­u­a­tion demon­strates the tremen­dous efforts the Star­link team is mak­ing to ensure the sys­tem is at the fore­front of in-orbit debris mit­i­ga­tion,” the com­pa­ny wrote in its announcement.

SpaceX launched more than 2,000 Star­link satel­lites in Jan­u­ary this year for its first-gen­er­a­tion con­stel­la­tion. Launch­es with Star­link satel­lites as pay­loads have become rou­tine for the com­pa­ny, and they will become even more com­mon if it gains approval to form a sec­ond con­stel­la­tion with up to 30,000 satel­lites to pro­vide glob­al inter­net coverage.

While Star­link could pro­vide inter­net con­nec­tion even to peo­ple in remote loca­tions, astronomers said mega­con­stel­la­tions have become a worse threat to their stud­ies than urban light pol­lu­tion. In fact, the Inter­na­tion­al Astro­nom­i­cal Union has just cre­at­ed the Cen­ter for the Pro­tec­tion of Dark and Calm Skies from Satel­lite Con­stel­la­tion Interference.

Since the main prob­lem is that tele­scopes will pick up light reflect­ed from these con­stel­la­tions of satel­lites, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to observe the rest of the uni­verse, the cen­ter will focus on soft­ware solu­tions and mit­i­ga­tion tech­niques that obser­va­to­ries can imple­ment. SpaceX added “umbrel­las” to its Star­link satel­lites in 2020 to make them less bright. Accord­ing to Sky & Tele­scope, they seem fainter now, but they are still vis­i­ble to telescopes.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.