SpaceX’s internet satellites down after a minor solar storm

But last week, SpaceX experienced a different, astounding effect of charged particles hurtling through space when 40 of its Starlink communications micro-satellites were destroyed a day after launch. The loss could cost the company tens of millions of dollars. Starlink will eventually consist of tens of thousands of small satellites in low Earth orbit.

according to SpaceX press release40 of the 49 Starlink satellites will enter the atmosphere or have already entered the atmosphere after encountering a geomagnetic storm on February 4. low cost internet The service, for the most remote regions of the planet, was launched on February 3 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The company said the satellites are not expected to cause debris or impact the ground upon re-entry, and instead are incinerated during a fiery re-entry.

Jim Spahn, space weather leader in NASA’s Heliophysics DivisionAnd who studies physics related to the sun.

Spahn said that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are analyzing the exact nature of the event that caused the problem but the conditions don’t seem particularly particular.

on January 30, Observed satellites subject the sun a Coronal mass ejection – Expulsion of plasma and magnetism. The current was directed toward Earth and arrived around February 2, triggering some scenes of the aurora borealis in the northern United States, shown above.

“This is the solar storm we expected to hit. It was pretty much the time,” said Tamitha Skov, a research scientist at Aerospace Corp. “When we saw that, we went, ‘Oh, that’s very nice.’”

Geomagnetic storms are rated on a scale G1 to G5 By NOAA, but Skov said this storm is on record as “active conditions only” — not even reaching the lowest level of a G1 storm. “We see a lot of storms like that. They happen literally once a week.”

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However, there was another solar storm lurking behind this one, and scientists were surprised.

“We had one observation that was line-of-sight, which means we look from the Earth to the sun and see the structure coming to us,” Skov said. “But if there are other things hidden inside or directly behind this structure, it is very difficult to get them out or distinguish them.”

When SpaceX launched its satellites on February 3, a second storm was building up. Storm is rated G1, stronger than the first but still relatively weak.

The effects of the two successive storms caused the Earth’s atmosphere to swell, or inflate, Skov said.

Think of Earth’s atmosphere as a bicycle tire, Skov said. When the first solar storm hit, its magnetic field pushed currents that caused the upper atmosphere and particles to move in one direction. the Suggestion It lasted about a whole day.

When the second sudden solar storm hit, Skov said, it was oriented in such a way that the motion of Earth’s upper atmosphere reversed direction. Friction and energy from the two opposing forces released heat in greater amounts than the models expected—similar to the friction heat released when you try to stop and reverse a moving bicycle tire with your hand.

“Your atmosphere will swell up so much when you have to spin in the atmosphere and make it spin the other way Skov, who also posts space weather forecasts regularly, said YouTube channel.

Spahn said that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are still analyzing the data and working to get a full understanding of the event, but he also said there may have been a little buildup from the first event that helped set the environment up by the time the G1 storm arrived.

“It’s kind of like an ordinary G1 storm. It wasn’t anything strange or extreme,” Spahn said. He said his colleagues are working to “understand how all of this happened, to make us more effective in predicting and providing support that commercial and other entities might need for future launches.”

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The second storm also caused the aurora borealis to occur in a few regions around the world, from near the Canada-US border to Britain.

In its news release, SpaceX said the storms caused a warming of the atmosphere and an increase in atmospheric density at the altitudes at which magnetic storm activity was occurring.

“Geomagnetic storms, when energy from the Sun enters the environment of the Earth’s magnetic field, it changes the upper atmosphere. Elizabeth MacDonald, a space weather physicist at NASA … “When a lot of particles come into the atmosphere, it can cause in increasing clouds.

The drag was up to 50 percent higher than it was during previous satellite launches, according to a SpaceX news release. The Starlink team ordered the satellites into safe mode to reduce the impact, but the increased drag prevented the satellites from leaving safe mode to begin maneuvers to enter the correct orbit.

MacDonald said the weather conditions led to a “perfect storm” in a sense. The timing of the radiation influx from the Sun and the storm’s effects on Earth’s upper atmosphere increased clouds. But, she added, this is not unusual, nor is the occurrence of two geomagnetic storms in close succession.

“What is unusual is the very low altitude of the Starlink satellites,” she said.

SpaceX said the satellites were hovering 130 miles above Earth rock bottom from its orbit), although Skov said that is less than expected for a stable orbit. Particle density is also higher at lower altitudes.

Skov said the design From satellites, too, it may not have helped reduce clouds. The satellites are impressively small, with a relatively large solar panel – a recipe for clouds if the atmosphere swells. Imagine a plastic army toy spreading its parachute.

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Starlink hasn’t experienced such a dense atmosphere in previous launches, but previous satellites have been launched during very different conditions on the Sun. About every 11 years, the direction of the Sun’s magnetic field flips and Candles activity weakens. The Starlink system came online while the Sun was going through a period of low activity called Solar Minimum. Despite this, the Sun has recently begun to enter a period of increased activity, heading towards its solar maximum.

“Because the sun has been so quiet and all of this technology is being developed over the past several years, this is the first time we’re using this kind of technology in this new environment,” Spahn said.

Space weather researchers say the sun’s activity is expected to increase to its maximum solar activity around 2025. In the past, Spahn said, some of the fiercest magnetic storms occurred after the sun had peaked and the sun’s maximum had fallen — meaning Starlink engineers would have to Learn to adapt the system to these conditions for many years to come.

“This is something Elon and his crew will need to watch out for, because this is by no means a very serious event,” Skov said, referring to SpaceX founder Elon Musk and the storm on February 4. They will see more of them.”

In fact, in the week following the last Starlink launch, skywatchers around the world experienced several auroras when another G1 storm reached Earth:

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