An unspecified defect in early model Starlink satellites has prompted SpaceX to preemptively deorbit the units before they potentially fail and become hazards in low Earth orbit. While the company remains confident that the deorbiting of these problematic units will prevent any issues, this incident underscores the challenges and uncertainties in navigating the realm of gigantic satellite networks.
The deorbiting of Starlink satellites is a commonplace task for SpaceX; the Elon Musk-led company has already initiated the disposal of 406 units from the nearly 6,000 satellites launched to date. Among these, 17 are currently non-maneuverable but are expected to naturally decay and eventually burn up in Earth’s atmosphere in the coming years. However, the decision to deorbit a large batch of approximately 100 satellites within a brief amount of time is certainly out of the ordinary.
SpaceX plans to initiate these controlled descents over the next few weeks and months, and the whole process should take roughly six months to complete, the company said in a statement . The chosen units, all early-version 1 Starlink satellites, are “currently maneuverable 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.”