More than 200 satellites belonging to internet service provider Starlink strangely disappeared this summer; most likely due to electromagnetic storms. This demonstrates the fragility of a set-up that could have tens of thousands of units in orbit within a few years' time.
A total of 212 Starlink satellites went missing between July 18 and September 18, 2023, according to data from satellitemap.space. This data is based on public tracking information. This is not the first time that satellites have failed to show signs of life, but such a spike is unprecedented. SpaceX has yet to make a public statement on the disappearance. So what could have happened to them?
The satellites have been designed in such a way as to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere at the end of their life cycle. This cycle is estimated at around five years, and the very first satellites were launched in 2019. The most likely explanation is that they were victims of electromagnetic storms, caused by strong solar flares. In February 2022, for example, some 40 satellites were lost just after launch due to an electromagnetic storm.
To date SpaceX has already launched more than 4000 Starlink satellites into low Earth orbit, ie; at an altitude of around 550 km, out of a program that will eventually see more than 40,000. Its ultimate goal is to cover the entire globe, offering high-speed internet access to anyone, anywhere, even in the middle of the ocean, in the desert or on the highest peaks on the planet.
Starlink now boasts over a million users worldwide and has recently been extended to include moving vehicles such as cars, vans and schoolbuses. The operator even hopes one day to be able to provide high-speed, reliable connections on airplanes. – AFP Relaxnews