February 3 SpaceX launched 49 of its Starlink satellites into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It was a routine occurrence for the company, which sends up a new batch of dozens of new satellites every week as part of its plan to build a giant satellite Internet network.
However, the launch was doomed to failure. Around the same time, our planet was “washed” by a wave of energetic solar particles and radiation caused by an explosion on the surface of the Sun.
These eruptions, such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are known as space weather, and they can have a variety of effects on our planet’s atmosphere and modern technology, such as disrupting radio signals and disrupting the power grid.
When this material from the Sun reached Earth, it heated our planet’s atmosphere, increasing the slight density of air at an altitude of 130 miles, where the Starlink satellites were sent.
The launch plan was for the satellites to use existing thrusters to increase their altitude to a desired orbit a couple of hundred miles higher.
But they failed to do so in time, and Starlink’s 38 satellites began to descend lower and lower as they flew through the thickening atmosphere, before burning up at thousands of miles per hour.
A study of the incident published in August by Chinese and US scientists found that SpaceX’s economic losses due to the storm were “several tens of millions of dollars”.
Despite the financial hit, SpaceX probably won’t be bothered much by losing 38 Starlink satellites, with more than 3,000 already in orbit.
The incident was a successful demonstration of SpaceX’s orbital strategy; the company said it intentionally launches satellites at very low altitudes so that in the event of a malfunction, they are quickly destroyed in the atmosphere rather than becoming floating space junk.
But SpaceX is unique in the space industry because most satellite operators maintain networks with only a fraction of the number of SpaceX modules. For other companies, the loss of even one satellite during launch can prove disastrous.
This is especially true now that the sun is increasing its activity during part of its roughly 11-year solar cycle. This cycle determines how often our star’s burst of energy will be felt on Earth, peaking in 2025. in the summer
Space weather phenomena can affect not only objects in space. Researchers also warned that electromagnetic interference from solar flares could disrupt signals on train lines, a phenomenon that has already been “well documented,” an expert told Newsweek in July. This can cause them to be delayed or even cause a dangerous accident.