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SpaceX satellites falling out of orbit after solar storm

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    16th Feb, 2022

Context

Spacex's newest fleet of satellites is tumbling out of orbit after being struck by a solar storm.

About

What happened?

  • A geomagnetic storm made the atmosphere denser, which increased the drag on the Starlink satellites and thereby effectively dooming them.
  • The satellites hit by the solar storm were in a temporary position.
  • SpaceX deliberately launches them into this unusually low orbit so that any duds can quickly re-enter the atmosphere and pose no threat to other spacecraft.

What is a Solar Storm?

  • Solar storms are magnetic plasma ejected at great speed from the solar surface.
  • They occur during the release of magnetic energy associated with sunspots (‘dark’ regions on the Sun that are cooler than the surrounding photosphere), and can last for a few minutes or hours. 
  • Solar storms can hit operations of space-dependent services like global positioning systems (GPS), radio, and satellite communications. 

Types of Solar Storms:

Solar Storms come in the form of the following types:

  • Solar Flares:A solar flare is a sudden flash of increased brightness on the Sun, usually observed near its surface and in proximity to a sunspot group.
    • Powerful flares are often, but not always, accompanied by a coronal mass ejection.
    • Even the most powerful flares are barely detectable in the total solar irradiance (the “solar constant”).
  • Coronal Mass Ejection:A coronal mass ejection (CME) is a significant release of plasma and accompanying magnetic field from the solar corona.
    • They often follow solar flares and are normally present during a solar prominence eruption.
  • Geomagnetic Storm:A geomagnetic storm is a major and temporary disturbance of Earth’s magnetosphere.
    • They occur when a surge of solar wind (charged particles from the sun) interacts with Earth’s magnetic field and generates charged particles and currents in Earth’s upper atmosphere.
    • Geomagnetic storms interfere with high-frequency radio communications and GPS navigation systems. Aircraft flights, power grids, and space exploration programmes are vulnerable.
  • Solar Particle Events:A solar particle event or solar proton event (SPE), occurs when particles (mostly protons) emitted by the Sun become accelerated either close to the Sun during a flare or in interplanetary space by coronal mass ejection shocks.

About Starlink Project:

  • The “Starlink” is a SpaceX project to build a broadband network to provide space internet (i.e satellite based) to the remotest corner of world.
  • It is done by a constellation of low earth orbit satellites.
  • The Starlink satellites will be deployed in the altitude band of 350 km to 1,200 km in the Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The LEO extends up to 2,000 km above the Earth’s surface.
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