Elon Musk’s SpaceX says a geomagnetic storm wiped out 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites it launched into orbit last week
Feb 9, 2022, 3:06 AM
- Elon Musk’s SpaceX said it lost up to 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites that it launched Thursday.
- A geomagnetic storm Friday prevented the satellites from reaching their orbital position.
- The satellites will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere but won’t produce orbital debris, SpaceX said.
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Elon Musk’s SpaceX said it lost up to 40 Starlink satellites that it launched into orbit last week because of a geomagnetic storm.
The aerospace company sent 49 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit on Thursday via a Falcon 9 rocket.
About 80% of those satellites were “significantly impacted” by a geomagnetic storm Friday, SpaceX said in a statement Tuesday.
Geomagnetic storms are triggered by disturbances between Earth’s magnetic field and charged particles from the sun, known as solar wind, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center.
The speed and intensity of the storm caused the “atmospheric drag” to climb to levels 50% higher than previous launches, SpaceX said in the statement. That made it harder for satellites to reach their orbital position.
SpaceX said Starlink tried to fly the satellites in “safe mode” to reduce atmospheric drag but they still weren’t able to reach their destination.
Up to 40 of the satellites will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, with some already having done so, Musk’s company said.
SpaceX said in the statement that the affected satellites wouldn’t collide with other satellites as they deorbited. There won’t be any orbital debris, and no satellite parts will hit Earth, SpaceX added.
SpaceX has launched more than 2,000 Starlink satellites into orbit, out of which nearly 1,900 are functioning.
“This is the biggest loss to date for them,” Jonathan McDowell, a Harvard astronomer, told Insider. But he said the company hadn’t had a single rocket failure — which could easily take out a batch of satellites at once.
“I don’t think this is a game changer for them. But they may change their deployment orbit a bit,” he said.