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Starlink loses two satellites

April 20, 2021

By Chris Forrester

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, reports that the past week had seen two of Elon Musk’s Starlink craft have re-entered the atmosphere and burned up.

McDowell says two Starlinks – which were already ‘retired’ from the fleet – came down at about 14.30 UTC on April 17 and another at about 16.00 UTC on April 18th.

Some 1375 Starlinks remain in orbit but their failure rate – albeit in the early stage of their launches – was running at 3 per cent, although more recently failures are 1 per cent or below.

SpaceX itself is very much focussed on April 22nd for the launch (at 06.11 Florida time) of a Falcon 9 and Dragon Crew capsule on a mission to the International Space Station. The capsule will accommodate 4 crew members.

The next launch of Starlink satellites is currently expected on April 28th when Starlink 25 will place the next batch of 60 satellites into orbit.

Meanwhile, Starlink is attracting its fair share of critics. A story in the WSJ on April 19th quoted Chris McLaughlin, who looks after government affairs for arch-rival OneWeb, saying that SpaceX has a “gung ho” approach to space.

“Every one of our satellites is like a Ford Focus—it does the same thing, it gets tested, it works—while Starlink satellites are like Teslas: They launch them and then they have to upgrade and fix them, or even replace them altogether,” McLaughlin said.

A SpaceX craft came within 190 feet – which in space is frighteningly close – of a OneWeb satellite earlier in April.

Mark Dankberg, founder of Viasat and also quoted in WSJ, said that SpaceX should have fewer satellites and make them more capable.

The complaints are coming ahead of a decision to be made by the FCC and whether to permit modifications to SpaceX’s licence and to orbit at a lower altitude (around 550 kms).

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