SpaceX loses 40 Starlink satellites to geomagnetic space storm

SpaceX is having a rough week with as many as 40 satellites from a recent launch due to disintegrate as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Last week, Elon Musk’s space company launched 49 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

It looks like 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites will be destroyed due to a geomagnetic storm. These storms cause the atmosphere to warm and increases the atmospheric density at SpaceX’s low deployment altitudes.

In a blogpost, SpaceX said that the storm caused ‘up to 50 percent higher drag than during previous launches’ keeping the deployed satellites from reaching their proper orbit around the Earth. 

Despite Starlink’s efforts to save the satellites, as many as 40 of them will burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere instead of reaching their destinations.

SpaceX has launched over 2,000 Starlink satellites since 2018 in an attempt to bring high-speed satellite internet to remote corners of the globe.

What are Geomagnetic storms?

These storms are caused by the sun spewing solar wind particles that eventually crash into the Earth. The particles mess with the planet’s magnetic field and disrupt satellites, increasing drag and messing with their orbits.

SpaceX assured that the satellites are designed to burn up entirely when they collide with the atmosphere so no debris reaches the ground. 

‘The deorbiting satellites pose zero collision risk with other satellites and by design demise upon atmospheric reentry—meaning no orbital debris is created and no satellite parts hit the ground,’ said SpaceX.

While SpaceX is using this incident to play up the minimal impact Starlink satellites have on the atmosphere, studies have revealed that Starlink satellites are photobombing astronomers’ images, potentially preventing them from identifying dangerous asteroids. 

Last week, the International Astronomical Union announced the formation the Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky to combat the issue.

SpaceX has got off to a rocky start this year with a SpaceX rocket launch aborted at the last moment due to a stray cruise ship last month.

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