Following a geomagnetic storm that attacked the spacecraft a day after launch, SpaceX has lost scores of satellites that have fallen from orbit and burned up.
Solar “storms” are created by enormous explosions on the sun’s surface, which eject plasma and magnetic fields that can reach the Earth’s atmosphere.
They were scheduled to participate in the company’s Starlink satellite internet project.
Starlink is Elon Musk’s attempt to provide high-speed internet through the use of thousands of orbiting satellites, according to the company.
A wired connection can’t be used in some locations because of the cost of the equipment, which is relatively expensive. For example, in Tonga, where an earthquake in January destroyed the island nation’s undersea data cable, a Starlink station is being built in neighbouring Fiji to aid in the restoration of connectivity to the island nation.
The most recent 49 satellites were launched roughly 210 kilometres (130 miles) above the surface of the Earth. After being launched into orbit on 3 February, SpaceX stated that “each satellite achieved controlled flight.”
The geomagnetic storm, on the other hand, reached the Earth a day later. Also is the same type of mechanism that causes aurorae, such as the Northern Lights, to appear, but it has the potential to do serious harm.
It was predicted that this storm would warm up the atmosphere, but it instead made it considerably more dense than projected.
In a statement, SpaceX noted that “onboard GPS data indicates that the escalation speed and intensity of the storm caused air drag to climb up to 50 percent greater than on previous launches.”
The drag was so great that the satellites were unable to get out of “safe mode” and back into the orbit that they needed to be in order to be stable. Instead, “up to 40” of the particles will fall back into the Earth’s atmosphere, where they will burn.
Jacob Geer, the Head of Space Surveillance at the United Kingdom Space Agency, stated that he does not expect “any part” of the satellites to hit the ground.
According to him, “events like this serve as an important reminder that space is difficult – putting satellites or astronauts into orbit is still not easy.”