A few dozen SpaceX satellites that launched last Thursday have already bit the dust in a solar storm, but thankfully, they’ll be reduced to dust upon reentering the atmosphere.
Space Age playboy Elon Musk could surely be accused of flying too close to the sun, but the predicament of his latest batch on newly launched SpaceX satellites is no laughing matter. The Associated Press reports that roughly 40 of SpaceX’s just-launched StarLink satellites perished in a solar storm, shortly after they were launched last Thursday.
“Unfortunately, the satellites deployed on Thursday were significantly impacted by a geomagnetic storm on Friday. These storms cause the atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density at our low deployment altitudes to increase,” SpaceX said in a statement. “Preliminary analysis show the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe-mode to begin orbit raising maneuvers, and up to 40 of the satellites will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Wait, “already have?” Yes, but there is no cause for worry. According to CNN, “the failed satellites shouldn't pose any risk to other satellites during their descent, and they should disintegrate as they slam into the thickest part of Earth's atmosphere so that they don't threaten any people or property on the ground.”
Though honestly, the company probably should have known the storm was coming. Meteorologists were very clear that these solar flares were coming, and expected to begin the day before the launch. "Different companies have their own criteria" for launching, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center program coordinator Bill Murtagh told CNN.
SpaceX already has a reported 2,000 or so satellites in space, intended to improve high-speed internet access and bring internet service to remote areas.