Forty-nine SpaceX satellites took off from Florida on February 3, aboard a Falcon-9 rocket. They were to be part of the Starlink constellation, intended to provide internet from space.
But this new batch disintegrated upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere due to“a geomagnetic storm on Friday”announced the company of Elon Musk in a blog post published on Tuesday, February 8.
These events are due to eruptions on the surface of the Sun, which can cause particles to be ejected all the way to Earth, where they cause a magnetic storm. These storms are notably the cause of the aurora borealis, but can also disrupt telecommunications.
No risk of collision with other satellites
“These storms warm the atmosphere and increase atmospheric density at our lower deployment altitudes”, explained SpaceX, specifying that the satellites had been placed in an orbit approaching the Earth at an altitude of 210 kilometers at the closest. SpaceX carries out checks, before sending its machines higher. That way, if they don’t work, they can be easily redirected back to Earth and, thus, not create space junk.
To counter the resistance effect induced by the magnetic storm, the satellites had been placed in ” Safe mode “, explained the company. But “preliminary analyzes show that resistance at low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe mode to begin their orbit raising maneuvers”, she continued. Results, “up to forty of the satellites will re-enter or have already re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere “.
They pose no risk of collision with other satellites, reassured SpaceX, and are designed to disintegrate in the atmosphere, so that“no part of the satellite touches the ground”.
Starlink’s first satellites were sent out in May 2019. The constellation currently includes about 1,500 active satellites, Musk tweeted in mid-January, and the company plans to position thousands more.