SpaceX last week launched 49 shiny new Starlink broadband-beaming satellites, which is good. But 40 of them have already, or will shortly, meet their demise due to a geomagnetic storm that struck a few days after their ascent. Which is bad.
All 49 satellites reached their planned 210km perigee deployment orbit, though the storm increased drag to levels up to 50 per cent higher than experienced on previous launches, according to a SpaceX update.
The Starlink team attempted to minimize the drag by putting the sats into safe mode, which would position them to fly edge-on. That plan didn’t work because drag caused by the storm still buffeted the devices and meant they could not leave safe mode to raise their orbits. Gravity did its inexorable thing, causing the craft to meet an inglorious end in Earth’s atmosphere.