Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellites Hit by Geomagnetic Storm


Elon Musk’s ambitious plan to provide low-latency broadband Internet connectivity to remote areas around the globe through a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit suffered an expensive blow recently, but there’s little Musk or SpaceX could do about it. On February 3, SpaceX launched 49 satellites into orbit but a geomagnetic storm destroyed nearly 40 of them. SpaceX said the storm caused “up to 50 percent higher drag than during previous launches,” which prevented the deployed satellites from reaching their proper orbit around the Earth.

SpaceX said Starlink tried to fly these satellites “edge-on (like a sheet of paper)” to ensure there is as little drag as possible but it’s now increasingly looking like “up to 40 of the satellites will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere” instead of reaching their destinations.

The Musk-owned aerospace firm, however, stated that there appeared “zero collision risk” of these satellites with others. It also said its satellites would “demise upon atmospheric reentry,” meaning no debris will be created and no satellite parts would hit Earth.

To make the Starlink constellation completely functional, SpaceX has plans to place up to 12,000 satellites in low-Earth orbit. It recently surpassed the target of 2,000 satellites. So, losing 40 satellites may not hugely impact its ambition. Still, this loss is equivalent to an entire launch capacity.

SpaceX explained that geomagnetic storms cause the atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density around the low deployment altitudes to increase. Unfortunately, a geomagnetic storm on Friday, February 4, had a substantial impact on the satellites that were deployed on Thursday, stated SpaceX. Undeterred by the loss of satellites, Starlink is likely to have more launched in the coming weeks and months to reach the 12,000 mini-satellite target as soon as it can.

Starlink recently announced a “premium” service for its customers in regions where it is operational. The company said that the service will offer “more than double the antenna capability” of its regular service.

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