Impact of Geomagnetic Storm on Satellites

Elon Musk’s Starlink lost dozens of satellites because they got caught in a geomagnetic storm, after their launch on February 3, 2022.

Highlights

  • Starlink had launched 49 satellites, of which 40 were impacted. These satellites were fell down from orbit before they could be commissioned.
  • Second stage of Falcon 9 launcher deployed the satellites into their intended orbit, with a perigee of around 210 km above Earth. Each of the satellite achieved controlled flight. But satellites were impacted by a geomagnetic storm.
  • These satellites were designed to burn up while re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere, in order to avoid creation of debris in space. Thus, loss of 40 satellites in a single solar event is huge.

What are Solar storms or flares?

Solar storms are magnetic plasma, which are ejected at great speed from solar surface. They occur during the release of magnetic energy, which is associated with sunspots (dark regions on the Sun). It can last for a few minutes or hours.

How solar flares impact Earth?

Most of the Solar flares do not reach to the Earth. However, solar flares/storms, high-speed solar winds, solar energetic particles (SEPs), and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), coming closer to the Earth can impact upper atmosphere space and near-Earth space.

What are services hit by Solar storms?

Solar storms can hit operations of space-dependent services including global positioning systems (GPS), satellite communications and radio. Geomagnetic storms interfere with GPS navigation systems and high-frequency radio communications. It can also impact power grids, aircraft flights, and space exploration programmes.

How scientists predict solar storms?

Solar physicists and other scientists use computer models for predicting solar activities and solar storms in general. However, with increasing global dependence on satellites for almost every activity, we need a better space weather forecasts and more effective ways for protecting satellites.

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