SpaceX to deorbit 100 Starlink satellites with unidentified defect


SpaceX announced today that it will retire around 100 Starlink satellites early after identifying a flaw that could worry them later. Don’t expect a fiery light show, and if you use Starlink, your service shouldn’t be affected.

The announcement explains that “the Starlink team identified a common problem” in this subset of first-generation communications satellites that could “increase the probability of failure.”

I’ve asked the company for more details and will update this post if I hear back, but based on the description and context, it seems likely that the “failure” in question would mean a loss control. Seventeen Starlink satellites are “currently unmaneuverable,” but SpaceX did not specify whether this was due to the same problem as the deorbit of all 100.

Unpowered satellites are more or less just debris, although in a low orbit like this they will burn up in a few years rather than a few hundred. One of the criticisms leveled at mega-constellations like Starlink is their potential to contribute to the space debris problem, and SpaceX doesn’t want to be the one people blame when the sky is filled with broken satellites.

This explains why, with these satellites functioning perfectly despite their age, SpaceX decided to initiate controlled descents to take them out of their orbit.

The descents will be triggered “in the coming weeks and months”, but these satellites are not capable of large movements, so it is more of a downward push. The deorbit process will actually take about six months, during which they will also “assume maneuvering responsibility for any high-risk conjunctions”, meaning that if they cross paths with other satellites, Starlink’s will politely move out of the way. .

They will fall one by one, not all together, so don’t bother looking at the sky.

Starlink users need not fear, however, as there are still thousands of working satellites up there. Nearly 6,000 have been launched to date, and 406 have been de-orbited, and others may not be operational, but they are more than enough to serve customers.


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