SpaceX says dozens of satellites destroyed in geomagnetic storm

Dozens of SpaceX's just launched Starlink low-orbit satellites crashed back towards Earth, following a massive geomagnetic storm which disrupted their placement. —Florida Today/AP/File

Elon Musk’s space venture SpaceX lost dozens of satellites to a storm, destroying the bulk of a recently launched fleet as they fell back toward Earth.

As many 40 of the 49 Starlink low-orbit satellites launched Feb 3 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida were hit by a geomagnetic storm the next day, SpaceX said on its website.

The affected satellites re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, or are on track to do so, burning up in the process, the company said. That means no orbital debris is created and no parts fall to the ground, SpaceX said.

SpaceX said the storm increased the temperature and density of the atmosphere, and was so severe that the drag on the satellites was 50% higher than in previous launches.

Efforts to save the satellites by flying them "edge-on” like a sheet of paper – to avoid the worst of the storm – failed, the company said.

A geomagnetic storm is a major disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says. They’re triggered by sustained and powerful solar winds, producing changes in the currents, plasmas, and fields in the magnetosphere, according to NOAA. – Bloomberg

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