Space company SpaceX has lost about 40 satellites in one fell swoop. Shortly after launch, they hit the edge of the atmosphere in a so-called geomagnetic storm.
If they haven’t already perished, they will soon. However, Elon Musk’s company reports that the satellites pose no danger and that no debris will fall to Earth.
SpaceX launched 49 satellites for its Starlink network last week. These are used to provide internet connections, including in areas where traditional connections are difficult. Hundreds of such satellites already revolve around the earth.
The Starlink satellites first go to an altitude of 210 kilometres above Earth. That is relatively low. The earth’s atmosphere passes there slowly into the infinite vacuum of the universe. The intention is that the satellites then travel the last part to their higher workplace. This is deliberately done this way: if a satellite is not working properly, the friction at the low altitude ensures that they decay quickly and do not continue to orbit endlessly like space junk.
On Friday, the day after the launch, a ‘storm’ of magnetic particles erupted around the Earth. It was the result of an outburst of particles on the sun at the end of January. The Starlink satellites had to fly through that storm. The ‘air pressure’ increased, which prevented 40 of the 49 satellites from rising.