When SpaceX’s last set of Starlink satellites were launched, they were hit by a geomagnetic storm and had to be scrapped. As many as 40 of the 49 satellites will or have already re-entered the atmosphere because they were unable to achieve their targeted orbits.
There were 49 Falcon 9 second stage launches on February 3, according to an update from SpaceX “satellites into their target orbit, with a perigee around 210 kilometres above Earth, and each satellite achieved controlled flight.
If any satellite fails to pass initial system checks, it will be promptly deorbited by atmospheric drag.” “that’s what they claimed At 540-570 km and 335-346 km, SpaceX is authorised to fly.
According to SpaceX, last week’s “unusual scenario” shows “the considerable lengths [the Starlink team] has gone to guarantee that the system is at the forefront of on-orbit debris mitigation.”
1,900 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit by SpaceX. Nearly 12,000 satellites may be launched by SpaceX, and an extra 30,000 can be launched with clearance granted by the Federal Communications Commission.
It was just a day after launch that the geomagnetic storm struck, SpaceX explained:
Unfortunately, the satellites deployed on Thursday 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 shows 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 re-entry—meaning no orbital debris is created and no satellite parts hit the ground.