Future Tech

Starlink suffers 'degraded service' from solar storm but emerges intact

Tan KW
Publish date: Mon, 13 May 2024, 10:57 PM
Tan KW
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Future Tech

The geomagnetic storm that led to nighttime light shows over the weekend also caused problems for the Starlink satellite broadband service, disrupted GPS signals, and affected the orbit of the Hubble Space Telescope.

A stronger than usual solar flare and coronal mass ejection (CME) from caused the geomagnetic storm and resulting aurora borealis as it impinged on the Earth's own magnetic field and charged particles from it collided with atoms in the upper atmosphere.

Such events also have the potential to disrupt communications, especially radio and satellite operations.

Starlink CEO Elon Musk warned on Twitter of potential disruption, posting the Kp index estimated for the event and saying: "Major geomagnetic solar storm happening right now. Biggest in a long time. Starlink satellites are under a lot of pressure, but holding up so far."

Some posts on megaforum Reddit pointed to effects being felt, with one commenter posting a Starlink message warning of a "degraded service" and confirming the company was working to resolve the issue.

Some users warned of slower than usual download speeds, while another Reddit poster said: "The only thing I have noticed since the storm started is more 'micro' ( < 2 second ) outages. And I wouldn't notice them if I didn't check for them."

Despite the strength of the solar flare and associated CME, it seems that Starlink stood up to the storm pretty well.

SpaceX, Elon Musk's space launch outfit and Starlink's parent company, tweeted earlier today: "All @Starlink satellites on-orbit weathered the geomagnetic storm and remain healthy."

Elsewhere, the solar storms affected GPS services, including for farmers in the Midwest US whose tractors relied on the satellite signals for key operations.

According to 404 Media, the issue forced some farmers to delay planting when the geomagnetic storm knocked some GPS systems offline temporarily, affecting the tractor's ability to position accurately when laying rows of crops.

Tractors from makers such as John Deere use GPS as part of their "Real-Time Kinematic" systems to achieve centimeter-level positioning accuracy. Crops planted during the period of GPS disruption may prove problematic when it comes to harvest time, the report says.

But the geomagnetic storm might also have had a deleterious effect on the aging Hubble Space Telescope by increasing drag and causing it to lose altitude, at least according to one Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Boston University.

"Even though HST orbits 50x higher than a commercial airliner, it is still in Earth's atmosphere, where drag acts as an external force (friction) to bring it back to the ground. A more active Sun accelerates the drag bringing HST back to Earth," JJ Hermes posted on Xitter.

Hubble has not had an orbital boost since the last Space Shuttle servicing mission 15 years ago, and with the Sun's activity picking up over the past year, its altitude is said to have dropped by more than 12 km.

"It will almost certainly be orbiting below 500 km by 2026," JJ Hermes commented.

The space telescope, which was launched in 1990, and anticipated to have a lifespan of about 15 years, was previously not anticipated to re-enter Earth's atmosphere until the mid to late 2030s, but the increased solar activity may hasten its demise.

NASA's original plan was to retrieve Hubble at the end of its life and bring it back to Earth using a Space Shuttle, but as the Shuttles have now been retired, this is no longer possible.

During the last servicing mission, NASA astronauts installed a Soft Capture Mechanism (SCM) to enable a future controlled deorbit using either a crewed or robotic mission. ®

 

https://www.theregister.com//2024/05/13/starlink_solar_storm/

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