A solar event earlier this year destroyed 38 of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, costing his company tens of millions of dollars in losses. SpaceX launched 49 low-latency internet satellites into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 3. The past was seemingly without incident at first, but around the same time, a massive wave of solar particles and radiation was hitting Earth.
According to the British newspaper “Daily Mail”, this wave was caused by an explosion on the surface of the sun, usually called solar flares or coronal mass ejections (CMEs), which are part of space weather.
Also, after reaching our planet, the solar material heated up our atmosphere and thickened small amounts of air over the 130 miles where the Starlink satellites were sent.
The microsatellites were supposed to raise themselves at an altitude of several hundred miles, but this did not happen due to atmospheric drag, which increased by at least 60%, according to a study by American and Chinese researchers.
“This event highlights the urgent requirements for a better understanding and accurate prediction of space weather as well as collaboration between industry and the space weather community,” the researchers wrote.
The study also found that the company’s economic loss from the solar storm would have amounted to “tens of millions of dollars”.
“We demonstrate solar eruption, solar wind diffusion, and atmospheric density enhancement, using both observed data and model simulations,” the study says.
Despite this, the satellites, each weighing about 570 pounds, pose no danger to anyone on Earth, as they burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, and SpaceX has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit and plans to launch thousands more.