CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida. – SpaceX says a geomagnetic storm damaged the latest batch of Starlink internet satellites, preventing most of them from landing in the correct orbit.
The 49 satellites were launched on February 3 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, programmed to climb slowly towards their intended orbit. All seemed well until the next day, when a sudden geomagnetic storm warmed the upper atmosphere, increasing atmospheric density.
SpaceX said the Starlink team tried to program the satellites to fly in safe mode, to help them “get out of the storm.” However, the increased drag from the thicker atmosphere has taken its toll on the satellites.
SpaceX thinks up to 40 of them will re-enter or have already re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. They said the de-orbited satellites – which are each about the size of a briefcase – present a “zero risk collision” with other satellites and no orbital debris or satellites will hit the ground.
SpaceX was supposed to fly the Starlink mission earlier this month, but due to four different launch delays from an Italian satellite, the company is moving it.
The satellites were to provide internet services and affordable internet around the world. So far, the company has launched around 2,000 into space.
This story was reported from Los Angeles.