A geomagnetic storm destroyed 40 SpaceX satellites a day after their launch into space. This represents a significant loss for the space exploration company headed by Elon Musk.
It also pushes back the company’s timetable to launch thousands of satellites into orbit to support their wireless internet service.
Geomagnetic Storm Destroys Dozens of SpaceX Satellites
Geomagnetic storms are solar events caused by explosions on the sun’s surface. During these geomagnetic storms, the sun shoots plasma and magnetic fields that can reach Earth.
Consequently, these storms hit dozens of satellites recently launched by SpaceX. The storm caused these satellites to fall from orbit and burn up. SpaceX estimates that 40 of the 49 satellites it launched a day ago were damaged by the magnetic storm.
Prior to the solar event, these satellites were about to join the Starlink satellite internet project.
Starlink is SpaceX’s high-speed internet service that uses thousands of orbiting satellites to connect remote locations.
Starlink Internet Service
While expensive, Starlink holds the ability to reach households and locations that wired connections can’t. It’s designed to deliver high-speed broadband internet to remote places that do not have terrestrial internet services.
It also delivers internet services to areas where there are no existing broadband networks.
For example, an earthquake hit the island of Tonga last January. As a result, the earthquake severed the country’s undersea data cable. In order to restore internet connectivity, Starlink built a station that didn’t rely on undersea cables.
SpaceX Deployed 49 Satellites, Lost 40 in Geomagnetic Storm
SpaceX said that it recently deployed 49 satellites 310 miles above the Earth’s surface. Each one achieved controlled flight after its launch on February 3.
However, a geomagnetic storm hit the Earth a day later, which warmed the atmosphere. As a result, the storm made the atmosphere much denser than expected. This led to the satellites experiencing more than 50% drag in the atmosphere.
SpaceX tried to save the satellites by placing them in safe mode. This helped them fly with reduced drag.
However, the strength of the geomagnetic storm prevented 40 of the 49 satellites from switching to safe mode. Instead, these satellites will now fall out of orbit and burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere.
SpaceX does not expect parts of the satellite to survive the re-entry into Earth. Each one will burn up completely before hitting the ground. According to Jacob Greer, space surveillance head for the UK Space Agency, he doesn’t expect any part of the satellite to reach Earth.
In addition, he said that geomagnetic storms are a reminder of what it's like out there in space. There are plenty of challenges to address before the human race can say they’ve conquered outer space.
“Events like this are a reminder that space is challenging – getting satellites or astronauts into orbit is still not easy.”
Watch the WION news video answering the question on what a Geomagnetic storm is and how it destroyed 40 SpaceX satellites:
What do you think of geomagnetic storms? Also, what do you think of 40 SpaceX satellites burning up due to forces we cannot control?
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