Geomagnetic storm destroys Space-X satellites

Space-X launched 49 new satellites on Feb 3 but according to the New York Times as many as 40 may have been destroyed by a geomagnetic storm on Feb 4. This seems odd as the storm wasn’t particularly strong there seem to have been no other notable reports of satellite damage.

Surprisingly the Starlink satellites were not damaged by radiation affecting the electronics but were hit by atmospheric drag. Space-X puts its satellites into an initial orbit about 210 km above the earth at its perigee (lowest point). This means any faulty units can be easily de-orbited. Good ones are repositioned in a higher final orbit.

Unfortunately one effect of a geomagnetic storm is to warm the atmosphere, which expands. Atmospheric density at the satellites’ height increased by a reported 50%, causing many of the satellites’ orbits to decay despite Starliink turning the satellites sideways on to minimise air resistance.

Space-X say the deorbiting satellites pose no risk of collision with other satellites. It appears they may be designed to burn up entirely on reentry, as Space-X say no parts will hit the ground.

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