(Background image: SpaceX)
In a dramatic turn of events, 40 of the 49 Starlink satellites launched on February 3, 2012 by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, were damaged and had to be decommissioned. The timing of the launch was such that the satellites were caught in a geomagnetic storm and were damaged. Normally, the satellites are placed in orbit roughly 130 miles above the Earth’s surface, their purpose being to provide rapid internet connections in hard-to-reach places. While the satellites will themselves burn up on reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere and pose no danger, the loss of 40 satellites represents a huge financial loss (up to $50 million) for the company.
BCSS’s Arve Aksnes (inset image above) has written a humorous op/ed piece in Bergens Tidende called “There’s no shame in turning around!” (in Norwegian). Aksnes argues that the “common sense” rules of understanding space weather – including the effect of solar storms on Earth – sometimes require waiting for appropriate safe time windows for launching satellites and other instruments. During solar storms, billions of tons of charged particles are hurled towards Earth from the Sun, resulting in potential damage to satellites.
BCSS is considered one of the top international centers for space research in the world. Should Musk/SpaceX consult with BCSS before sending up the next batch of satellites? That may not be a bad idea!