In response to the loss of 40 Starlink satellites to a solar storm, SpaceX has suspended the next installment higher up.
Fewer numbers, higher orbit: The US space company SpaceX has once again launched satellites for the Starlink constellation. As a consequence of the failure caused by the solar storm, these come into a different orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with 46 satellites on board. 62 minutes later the satellites were deployed. However, there was only a confirmation of this around 20 minutes because the ground station could not be reached, reports the US news service Spacenews, which specializes in space issues. The first stage returned to Earth and landed on an autonomous ship near the Bahamas.
The satellites were deployed in a parking orbit at an altitude of about 330 kilometers. This is significantly higher than the other satellites in the Starlink constellation, which will be deployed at an altitude of 210 kilometers. The rocket transported three fewer satellites than usual - possibly because of the higher orbit: in order to reach it, the engines had to be fired a second time.
Solar storms affect the atmosphere
The higher parking orbit appears to be in response to the loss of 40 satellites earlier this month. These had been destroyed as a result of a solar storm: During a solar storm, the earth's upper atmosphere is heated, which then expands. This increases the air resistance.
The Starlink satellites will be deployed in particularly low orbits. The air friction there is normally large enough to slow down scrap and remove it from orbit within a few days or weeks. As air friction increased after the solar storm, 40 of the 49 satellites had already descended so low that their weak ion engines were no longer able to escape the atmosphere. In the higher orbit, there is less drag, so a solar storm has less of an impact.
The launch was the first launch since the Feb. 3 mission, which lost its satellites, and the seventh this year. Another is planned for this week. SpaceX aims to make 52 rocket launches this year.
Starlink is a satellite constellation that aims to make high-speed internet available anywhere on earth. In the full expansion stage, there should be 12,000 satellites.