ISU SSP - 2022 - Banner

40 Starlink satellites get lost in geomagnetic storm

Starlink launch from the Kennedy Space Center Feb. 3 carrying 49 Starlink satellites. Credit: SpaceX

Edinburgh / Mountain View, 10 February 2022. – Up to 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites launched last Thursday will re-enter, or have already done so, due to a geomagnetic storm, SpaceX reported.

A coronal mass ejection hit Earth’s magnetic field two days before launch but the weak impact did not trigger remarkable geomagnetic activity. However, G1-class (minor) geomagnetic storms developed later and one of these caught the Starlink satellites a day after deployment.

Such storms heat up the atmosphere and increase atmospheric drag, the force that pulls back space objects towards our planet. The company said that according to onboard GPS, this drag was 50% higher than during previous launches. 

The satellites were commanded into a safe-mode, meaning they flew edge-on to minimize the drag-effect. The spacecraft were unable to recover from safe-mode though, and failed to reach orbit or to counteract atmospheric forces.

The low orbit used by SpaceX with a perigee of only 210 km, only added to the problem. The firm intentionally uses this orbit so that spacecraft that fail can quickly de-orbit naturally. The Starlink satellites pose no risk to other space objects and they are designed to burn up completely on reentry, according to SpaceX.

Check Also

Space Café Radio – on tour in Berlin – with Lynn Zoenen

In this Space Café Radio -  SpaceWatch.Global publisher Torsten Kriening spoke with Lynn Zoenen, Principal at Alpine Space Ventures at the 19th ESA Investment Forum 2022 in Berlin on Space Investments in Europe. The ESA Investor Forum is a high-profile event for space-related investment opportunities and connects start-ups and scale-ups from the ESA network with European investors.