Stunning view of SpaceX Starlink satellite breakup over Puerto Rico

On Tuesday, SpaceX confirmed that up to 40 of the company’s Starlink satellites that launched last week would be lost, as a result of a geomagnetic storm. Now, a video from Puerto Rico shows a stunning view of Starlink satellites burning up on reentry.

We wrote yesterday about how SpaceX has lost up to 40 of its satellites launch on the Starlink 4-7 mission as a result of the geomagnetic storm the day after launch.

The storm caused heat in the atmosphere, essentially causing denser layers of the atmosphere to rise up, and increasing atmospheric density, and therefore drag, at the Starlink satellites low deployment altitude.

As I wrote yesterday, this lower altitude is advantageous, “as any satellite that experiences issues will deorbit over time, preventing space junk, but this also means the orbit of the satellites will decay much more quickly before the orbit-raising maneuvers are performed.”

The satellites were put into a safe mode to reduce the impact of the atmospheric drag

On the company’s website, it noted:

Preliminary analysis show the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe-mode to begin orbit raising maneuvers, and up to 40 of the satellites will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. The deorbiting satellites pose zero collision risk with other satellites and by design demise upon atmospheric reentry—meaning no orbital debris is created and no satellite parts hit the ground.

While none of the debris from satellite reentry hit the ground, the satellites have been reentring and putting on quite a show for those on the ground.

YouTube user kevinizooropa has previously shot SpaceX second stages and meteor showers (their catalog of night-sky footage is amazing to check out, go give it a look!), and on February 7 they captured the re-entry of one of the Starlink satellites over Puerto Rico (as confirmed by astronomer Jonathan McDowell). With multiple different views, the video is impressive, interesting, and also sad. It’s no doubt disappointing for all of the SpaceX employees who have worked so hard on the project to see that effort be lost.

As I noted yesterday, “The company spent tens of millions of dollars building and launching the satellites, and now many from this most recent launch have been lost. Yet, this is still a plus side of an LEO constellation rather than a geostationary satellite. No doubt, in just a short period of time the company will be ready with another launch to continue to build out the internet service.”

I certainly look forward to seeing SpaceX’s next Starlink launch, and I hope the engineers can remain proud of the fact their decision for a low deployment altitude, as costly as it was in this specific instance, helps keep space clean for generations to come.

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