Starlink, the company led by Elon Musk that provides Internet connection services through satellites, has launched over 5,000 satellites into space to date. However, in just two months, more than 200 of these satellites have reportedly been deactivated due to exposure to solar storms, leading to their incineration in the atmosphere.
There has recently been an increase in solar activity without a clear explanation from scientists. Solar storms are occurring more frequently and with increasing intensity. These storms reach Earth within minutes and generate electromagnetic discharges in the atmosphere that have the potential to overload power grids, disrupt Internet connectivity, and, in the worst-case scenario, destroy satellites by melting them.
In the case of Elon Musk’s satellites, solar storms cause an increase in atmospheric density, according to Starlink. This increase in density makes it difficult for the satellites to maintain their orbit. Since they operate in low Earth orbit, when they lose their orbit, they are captured by Earth’s gravity, enter the atmosphere, and ultimately incinerate. Although they are lost in the process, at least they do not remain as space debris in orbit.
According to information provided by SatelliteMap.space, which monitors all satellites in orbit, Starlink has launched a total of 5,017 satellites, but currently only 4,166 of them are operational. Of these, 569 satellites have been destroyed due to solar storms, while others have stopped functioning for various reasons.
The loss of satellites not only incurs the direct cost of replacing the satellite itself for Starlink but also has a significant impact on its budget, as the company’s major expense is related to launching satellites using SpaceX rockets.
SpaceX’s ability to launch Starlink satellites has decreased in recent years, according to Wccftech. Initially, they could launch up to 60 satellites with each rocket. However, due to changes in the design of Falcon 9 rockets and the fact that the second generation of Starlink satellites is larger and heavier, they can currently only launch around 22 satellites at the same time. This poses an additional challenge and increases the launch costs for Starlink.
To replace the 200 satellites destroyed by solar storms in the past two months, SpaceX would have to carry out nine launches, each of which represents a cost of several million dollars. The total expenditure for Starlink is extraordinary.
Considering that Starlink has far fewer customers than Elon Musk had anticipated a few years ago, the situation seems particularly challenging for this pioneering company.
It is important to note that solar storms have tangible consequences for space companies like Starlink, which have lost over 200 satellites in two months due to this issue, and these losses are difficult to avoid.
According to technology expert Samir Estefan, Starlink is “a broadband internet system, with high-speeds, through a network of satellites that the company has launched into space, to which antennas connect and operate the internet.” Estefan also indicated that providing this service through fiber optic or other means is easy in urban areas but is costly for remote sites due to the necessary infrastructure for connectivity. Therefore, these small satellites offer the possibility of low-cost connectivity.
Currently, Starlink provides its service in countries such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and some European countries.