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SpaceX - sailing close to the space weather?
  • Michael A. Hapgood,
  • Huixin Liu,
  • Noé Lugaz
Michael A. Hapgood
STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Corresponding Author:mike.hapgood@stfc.ac.uk

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Huixin Liu
Earth and Planetary Science Department, Kyushu University
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Noé Lugaz
University of New Hampshire
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The 3 February 2022 launch of 49 of SpaceX's Starlink satellites has provided a fascinating example of how even modest space weather can have significant practical and financial consequences. Enhanced atmospheric drag associated with a minor geomagnetic storm led to the loss of the majority of the 49 launched satellites. Although the 36th launch by SpaceX in the past 3 years, it was the first that experienced stormy space weather. We expect more stormy space weather as Solar Cycle 25 ramps up towards its peak expected in 2025. A subsequent Starlink launch on 21 February used a higher initial orbit at 300km, reducing the payload from 49 to 46 satellites, and can be considered an agile response to the space weather losses experienced two weeks earlier. Lessons to be learnt by the space industry and the space weather community are discussed, including a better dialogue, nuanced understanding of space weather risks associated with modest events, but also an opportunity to investigate the space environment in relatively unexplored regions such as very low and high low Earth orbits.
Mar 2022Published in Space Weather volume 20 issue 3. 10.1029/2022SW003074