SpaceX satellite falls out of orbit after solar storm – Orange County Register

By Marcia Dunn | Related press

SpaceX’s newest fleet of satellites is tumbling out of orbit after being hit by a solar storm.

As many as 40 of the 49 small satellites launched last week have either re-entered the atmosphere and burned up, or are on the verge of becoming operational, the company said in an online update Tuesday night.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX said a geomagnetic storm last Friday thickened the atmosphere, increasing drag on the Starlink satellites, leaving them affected.

Ground controllers have tried to save the compact, flat-screen satellites by putting them into hibernation and flying them in a way to minimize drag. But the pull of the atmosphere was too great, and the satellites were unable to awaken and climb to higher, more stable orbits, according to the company.

SpaceX still has nearly 2,000 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth and providing internet service to remote corners of the world. They orbit the globe more than 340 miles (550 km).

The satellites hit by the solar storm were in temporary positions. SpaceX intentionally launched them into this unusually low orbit so that any dents could quickly re-enter the atmosphere and pose no threat to other spacecraft.

According to the company, there is no danger from these newly dropped satellites, either in orbit or on the ground.

Each satellite weighs less than 575 pounds (260 kg).

SpaceX describes the lost satellites as a “unique situation.” Such geomagnetic storms are caused by intense solar activity resembling flares, which can send plumes of plasma from the sun’s corona into space and toward Earth.

Since launching the first Starlink satellite in 2019, Elon Musk has envisioned a constellation of thousands of other satellites to enhance internet service. SpaceX is trying to help restore internet service to Tonga through this network after the volcanic eruption and devastating tsunami.

London-based OneWeb has its own internet satellites there. And Amazon plans to start launching its satellite later this year.

Astronomers are very worried that these massive constellations will disrupt nighttime observations from Earth. The International Astronomical Union is establishing a new center to protect the dark skies. SpaceX satellite falls out of orbit after solar storm – Orange County Register

Huynh Nguyen

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