SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, has remained silent regarding the disappearance of more than 230 telecommunication satellites from the Starlink constellation. This lack of explanation has left experts skeptical. According to data compiled and published on the satellitemap.space website, Starlink has lost precisely 236 communication units between July 18th and the end of September. This is out of the 5,000 satellites that have been deployed in low Earth orbit by the American internet service provider, which plans to eventually have a total of 42,000 satellites in order to achieve its commercial goals and provide global coverage.
While the data indicates a steady loss of satellites since 2019, the phenomenon appears to be accelerating every year, with a peak observed this summer. The number of lost satellites has gone from around 50 in January 2021 to nearly 600 by September 26th, with over 230 losses reported between July 1st and the end of September.
The numbers released by the tracking website are alarming enough to make some experts question their accuracy. Without any explanations provided by SpaceX thus far, it remains unknown whether the 236 satellites that have disappeared from radar are still operational or if they have simply gone out of contact. It is also unclear whether this is part of the normal cycle of satellite replenishment, with units deorbiting after approximately five years of service, or if they have prematurely burned up due to a malfunction.
Experts have not ruled out the possibility that the Starlink constellation may have been damaged by electromagnetic storms, as there were numerous powerful solar flares during this summer period. Satellites are particularly vulnerable to these phenomena; for example, in February of this year, SpaceX reported the loss of around 40 units from its Starlink fleet due to an electromagnetic storm. Given the cost of each satellite and its deployment, SpaceX could potentially have lost up to $100 million.