A solar storm has destroyed dozens of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites. The company said that at least 40 of the 49 satellites that were launched on February 3 have re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and burned up.
The geomagnetic storm made Earth’s atmosphere denser, which increased the drag on the satellites. Ground controllers put the satellites into “safe-mode” and tried to fly them into a higher, more stable orbit, where there would be less drag. Unfortunately, they were unable to save most of the satellites.
“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,” SpaceX explained in an update.
The satellites, which weigh less than 575 pounds, do not pose any danger to Earth or other satellites in orbit.
“The deorbiting satellites pose zero collision risk with other satellites and by design demise upon atmospheric reentry—meaning no orbital debris is created, and no satellite parts hit the ground. This unique situation demonstrates the great lengths the Starlink team has gone to ensure the system is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation,” SpaceX said.