40 Starlink satellites doomed by geomagnetic storm

40 Starlink satellites doomed: Streaks of light streaming behind bright points against a black background.
SpaceX is reporting 40 Starlink satellites doomed to reentry. In contrast to a natural meteor, a satellite reentry looks more like cluster of bright points, all moving in the same direction, leaving streaks behind them. Within those streaks, you might see a “pop” of light, as a chunk of artificial debris vaporizes. This image shows a reentering artificial satellite, in this case caught on video during ESA’s Jules Verne ATV re-entry observation campaign in 2008. Image via ESA/

40 Starlink satellites doomed

SpaceX reported last night (February 8, 2022) in its Updates area that 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites it launched to low Earth orbit on February 3 are now doomed by a geomagnetic storm. Such storms are disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field caused by activity on the sun. The satellites were part of SpaceX’s grand plan to launch thousands of Starlink satellites for global internet access. SpaceX said:

… The satellites deployed on Thursday were significantly impacted by a geomagnetic storm on Friday … Preliminary analyses show the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe-mode to begin orbit raising maneuvers … up to 40 of the satellites will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.

Geomagnetic storms result from explosive events on the sun, called solar flares. These events have the potential to hurtle charged solar particles across space to the Earth. The impact causes a geomagnetic storm, an event associated with Earth’s beautiful auroras or northern lights. But these events also cause Earth’s atmosphere to warm and “puff up.” Low-orbiting satellites will feel increased atmospheric drag in an atmosphere puffed up during a geomagnetic storm. SpaceX said:

In fact, onboard GPS suggests the escalation speed and severity of the storm caused atmospheric drag to increase up to 50% 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’ …

But to no avail.

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Reentering satellites

It’s possible that one or more of the satellites reentered the atmosphere over the Caribbean recently.

A video from cameras that monitor the skies of Puerto Rico, from Sociedad de Astronomia del Caribe, shows an interesting event that appears to be related: first, an object is seen disintegrating, with noticeable fragmentation, which is characteristic of space debris.

Impressive visuals appear just one minute later, as a bigger object undergoes a spectacular disintegration. Satellite tracking experts agree the event is probably related to the Starlink satellites launched on February 3, 2022.

Take a look at the video:

Each Starlink satellite is 10 1/2 feet (3.2 meters) x 5 1/4 feet (1.6 meters) and weights 573 pounds (260 kilograms).

Some of the doomed satellites will be reentering the atmosphere during the next few days, and although it’s still uncertain exactly where and when, just in case, keep looking up!

More geomagnetic storms expected

SpaceX added that the deorbiting satellites:

… pose zero collision risk with other satellites and by design demise upon atmospheric reentry. [That means] no orbital debris is created and no satellite parts hit the ground.

By the way, the sun is currently in the rising part of its 11-year sunspot cycle (Solar Cycle 25). In other words, solar activity is on an upswing and can be expected to increase in the coming years. In fact, another CME released from the sun February 6 should hit Earth on February 10.

In January 2022, SpaceX passed a 2,000-satellite milestone with its Starlink mission. The overall plan for thousands of Starlink satellites in low Earth orbit has caused controversy in the astronomy community.

Bottom line: On Thursday, February 3, 2022, a SpaceX Falcon 9 launched 49 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX reported on February 8 that at least 40 of those satellites “will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere” due to a geomagnetic storm.

Via SpaceX

Read more: What is that?! Starlink satellites explained

Read more from Did I see a meteor or a re-entry?

February 9, 2022

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