Geomagnetic storm zaps some 40 recently launched Starlink satellites

(09 Feb 2022) A minor geomagnetic storm last Friday (4 February 2022) caused significant trouble for a batch of SpaceX Starlink launched the day before – so much that at least 40 of the 49 spacecraft are doomed.

The launch went ahead as planned, and the satellites were deployed into their intended orbit with a perigee of approximately 210 kilometers above Earth. Each satellite achieved controlled flight.

According to SpaceX, "the satellites … were significantly impacted by a geomagnetic storm on Friday. These storms cause the atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density at our low deployment altitudes to increase. In fact, onboard GPS suggests the escalation speed and severity of the storm caused atmospheric drag to increase up to 50 percent higher than during previous launches. The Starlink team commanded the satellites into a safe-mode where they would fly edge-on (like a sheet of paper) to minimize drag—to effectively 'take cover from the storm'—and continued to work closely with the Space Force's 18th Space Control Squadron and LeoLabs to provide updates on the satellites based on ground radars.

"Preliminary analysis show the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe-mode to begin orbit raising maneuvers, and up to 40 of the satellites will re-enter or already have re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. 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."

[SpaceX did not elaborate on what damage frequent mass satellite deorbiting events do to Earth's atmosphere. As to the severity of the geomagnetic storm, the renowned web site said that it was minor, adding that "This is a cautionary tale: Even relatively mild space weather can have big consequences." – Ed.]

Reference: SpaceX PR,

#collision  #debris  #GPS  #LeoLabs  #SpaceX  #Starlink