Launching of Elon Musk’s Starlink mega-constellation of satellites is now a regular occurrence. The latest batch of 60 craft were launched on March 18th. But there are also some satellite failures once in orbit.
Musk and his team have repeatedly said that some of the satellites will fail and we now have independent verification from an expert at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics which has been watching each individual satellite of the 360 now launched.
Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Centre, has commented on each craft from the moment of deployment and as the ground engineers monitor and adjust each individual satellite’s progress towards its nominal 550 kms orbital position. Some craft are kept at a 380 kms ‘parking’ orbit.
His latest comment on April 4th talked about Starlink S-1283, one of the latest batch, seemingly having problems but was now seeing its orbit raised. In a Tweet he said: “All 60 satellites from this launch seem to be active; orbit raising for the first batch of 20 is complete and the other 40 are still on the way up.”
“For the second Starlink launch (Nov 2019). Starlink 1040 seems to have failed soon after launch. S-1014 began orbit raising late and at half the usual rate (still rising). S-1029 stopped raising Jan 11 – still making orbit maintenance burns so not dead,” he added.
“From 1st Starlink launch in May 2019. There are 6 satellites I consider as ‘anomalous’. Sat 46 deorbited. Sat 67 is maneuvering at low altitude. Sats 43, 48, 60 and 80 showing slow orbital decay since Jun 2019, are probably failed. Sat 61 may have failed Jan 2020,” he stated. “S-1027 and S-1035 are slightly above the main constellation, not clear what’s going on with them but clearly still active, so I assess 57 operational satellites, 2 problematic and 1 failed for this launch.”