Huge solar storm wipes out up to 40 SpaceX Starlink satellites

Satellites were left stuck in 'safe mode' and will gradually get closer to Earth until they burn up on re-entry

This image provided by NASA shows a solar flare just as sunspot 1105 was turning away from Earth on Sept. 8, 2010 the active region erupted, producing a solar flare and a fantastic prominence. The eruption also hurled a bright coronal mass ejection into space. The eruption was not directed toward any planets. (AP Photo/NASA) *** Local Caption ***  NY110_Solar_Flare.jpg
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A powerful solar storm caused Elon Musk’s SpaceX to lose up to 40 of its Starlink satellites that were launched recently.

The satellites had to “take cover” from the storm by going into safe mode – shutting down all non-essential functions – allowing them to get dragged closer to Earth’s atmosphere.

But the solar storm caused the atmospheric drag to increase, making it impossible for the satellites to turn off safe mode, and they will now continue to get closer to Earth until they are burnt up upon re-entry.

The storm struck a day after SpaceX launched 49 of the Starlink satellites, which are part of a satellite network that aims to provide internet access in remote areas.

“Unfortunately, the satellites deployed on Thursday were significantly impacted by a geomagnetic storm on Friday,” SpaceX said on its website on Tuesday.

“On board GPS suggests the escalation speed and severity of the storm caused atmospheric drag to increase up to 50 per cent higher than during previous launches.

“Preliminary analysis shows the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe mode to begin orbit-raising manoeuvres, and up to 40 of the satellites will re-enter or already have re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Solar storms occur when the Sun is experiencing peak activity, causing it to shoot hot plasma in the form of solar flares and winds.

These huge blasts of X-rays can travel at the speed of light towards Earth, releasing electromagnetic radiation – an event known as a geomagnetic storm – that can damage satellites and cause power cuts.

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Updated: February 09, 2022, 8:36 AM