SpaceX Satellites Destroyed By Geomagnetic Storm Are Falling Out of Orbit

by Victoria Santiago

A solar storm has sent the newest batch of SpaceX satellites plummeting back into the atmosphere, where they’re being destroyed. The satellites were just launched last week. They are compact and flat-paneled. Each satellite weighs less than 575 pounds.

The majority of them have already been destroyed. They’re reentering the atmosphere and burning up before they could ever fall back to Earth. Since they’re being destroyed upon reentering, they pose no threat. The ones that haven’t reentered the atmosphere yet are on the precipice of doing so, where they’ll meet the same fate. According to SpaceX, 40 out of the 49 satellites have already been destroyed.

The SpaceX Satellites Couldn’t Be Saved

The private space company went on to say that the satellites met their demise after a solar storm made the atmosphere denser. By doing this, the drag on the satellites was increased. Ground controllers tried to save the fleet but were unsuccessful. They tried to put the SpaceX satellites in hibernation and change their flight pattern to minimize the drag. However, the atmospheric pull was too great for the satellites to break free from. They were unable to wake up from the hibernation and climb into a higher and more stable orbit.

The space company launches all of its satellites into a similar low orbit at first. They put their satellites in a temporary low orbit so that they can easily pull any duds back into the atmosphere. This way, the useless satellites won’t be a threat to other spacecraft. While this orbit pattern may be normal for the company, events like this are not. According to SpaceX, this satellite loss is a “unique situation.” Geomagnetic storms are caused by solar activity like flares. They can be quite intense.

Not only is it a unique situation, but an expensive one, too. It’s estimated that each satellite costs the space company $250,000 to build. This means that the solar storm could end up costing SpaceX a whopping $10 million.

Lost Satellites Are a Drop in the Starlink Bucket

Even though this new batch of satellites is a loss, there are still plenty more that made it into orbit. SpaceX has been launching its Starlink satellites since 2019. ABC News reports that there are currently around 2,000 spacecraft orbiting Earth. They orbit more than 340 miles above the atmosphere.

These satellites are used to provide internet access to various points around the globe. That’s the whole purpose of Starlink, and that’s also why there are so many SpaceX satellites orbiting right now. The destroyed satellites haven’t stopped the company at all, although they are a loss. In fact, Starlink is doing so well that it just announced a new tier to its internet service. Elon Musk’s company has been busy. In addition to their normal endeavors, they’re also working towards restoring internet service in Tonga.