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SpaceX to bring down 100 satellites

February 14, 2024

Elon Musk says that SpaceX will deorbit approximately 100 of its early version Starlink satellites which have a design problem and could fail, and not be manoeuvrable. Musk also stated that the 3rd test launch of its Starship giant rocket was about 3 weeks away.

SpaceX, in a February 12th statement, said these “early version” Starlinks would be de-orbited by means of a controlled descent over a 6-month period. They would then burn up in the atmosphere.

“These satellites are currently manoeuvrable and serving users effectively, but the Starlink team identified a common issue in this small population of satellites that could increase the probability of failure in the future,” SpaceX stated. “With space sustainability in mind, SpaceX has to-date initiated controlled deorbits on 406 satellites out of the nearly 6,000 Starlink satellites launched. Of those, 17 are currently non-manoeuvrable, passively decaying, but well-tracked to help mitigate collision risk with other active satellites. The other 95 per cent of satellites the Starlink team initiated controlled descent for have already de-orbited.”

SpaceX was not specific on what the problem was other that the satellites were suffering a “common problem”, but added: “All satellites will maintain manoeuvrability and collision avoidance capabilities during the descent. Additionally, these deorbiting satellites will take manoeuvre responsibility for any high-risk conjunctions consistent with space safety and sustainability best practices.”

However, the statement said that SpaceX was manufacturing up to 55 satellites per week, and was launching more than 200 per month.

As to the Starship launch and Musk’s ultimate plan to colonise Mars, he said (in a Tweet/X) wrote that Starship is intended to carry a lot of people on tens of thousands of flights “so needs to be extremely reliable over time. It will be,” Musk wrote.

In case of an isolated engine failure, multiple engines increase reliability, Musk explained. With 33 engines on the Super Heavy booster, which is even more than the 30 engines on Soviet N1 first stage, Starship is aiming to be reliable, Musk added.

Starship #2 launched on November 18th 2023 and reached about 150 kms in height but suffered a booster malfunction and exploded over the Atlantic Ocean.

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