Recently deployed Starlink satellites destroyed in geomagnetic storm

HomeNewsRecently deployed Starlink satellites destroyed in geomagnetic storm
Recently deployed Starlink satellites destroyed in geomagnetic storm

SpaceX has just announced that it lost up to 40 of its recently deployed Starlink satellites to a geomagnetic storm. This makes up the majority of Starlink's recent launch. The satellites were launched on Thursday, February 3, 2022 by SpaceX's Falcon 9. Of the 49 Starlink satellites that were launched, it is unclear how many are still in orbit and will function as intended.

The plan was to launch the satellites into low Earth orbit – and at first everything seemed to be going well. Falcon 9 was launched as planned at 1:13 PM EST from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch was streamed live on YouTube. The Starlink satellites were deployed as part of the Falcon's second stage and entered their intended orbit, which SpaceX notes was about 210 kilometers (130 miles) above Earth. All 49 units achieved controlled flight and would likely have continued to operate if not for the ensuing storm.

The company detailed the launch, as well as what went wrong, in an update on the website. SpaceX explained that its satellites are placed in low orbits very close to Earth as a safety precaution. If something goes wrong and a satellite fails the initial system checks, it is easily decimated by atmospheric drag. It turns out that this choice came in handy just one day after the initial launch because the storm hit on Friday, February 4, 2022.

1. Up to 40 Starlink satellites were lost

The storm that severely impacted SpaceX's latest satellite launch caused an increase in atmospheric temperature and density. The company explains that the storm was severe and readings from the GPS on board each Starlink satellite showed that air resistance was up to 50% higher than during previous Starlink launches. This was a result of the storm itself and the increase in the rate of escalation that followed.

Of course, the Starlink team did not observe the situation passively – the satellites were immediately ordered to enter safe mode, which SpaceX compares to "taking cover from the storm" and flying on the edge. This action had a chance to save some of the satellites, and while some did, many were unable to continue operating. The atmospheric drag at these low altitudes prevented the Starlink units from leaving safe mode to increase orbit.

What comes next? The satellites have already started to return to Earth and some of them have already re-entered the atmosphere. The company assures that they will be destroyed upon re-entry, and there is no chance of collision or debris ever hitting the surface of the planet.

This failed launch was certainly costly for SpaceX, although the company is not disclosing how much it lost. It recently launched its new Starlink Premium service, which offers high-speed internet for $500/month, so to follow that with such untimely news is really bad luck.

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