SpaceX to Lose Most Starlink Satellites from Last Launch to Solar Activity

SpaceX has posted an update on their Web Site dated 2022-02-08, “Geomagnetic Storm and Recently Deployed Starlink Satellites” (SpaceX does not provide direct links to individual update posts, so the title links to the updates page where, at this writing, that post is at the top. As other posts are added, it will scroll down on the page and you’ll have to go looking for it.)

In summary, after 49 Starlink satellites were launched by the Starlink Group 4-7 mission, solar activity caused the upper atmosphere to expand, increasing drag in the low orbit into which Starlink satellites are initially placed. To protect against orbital decay, SpaceX placed the satellites into “safe mode”, in which they turn their solar panels edge-on to minimise drag.

SpaceX deploys its satellites into these lower orbits so that in the very rare case any satellite does not pass initial system checkouts it will quickly be deorbited by atmospheric drag. While the low deployment altitude requires more capable satellites at a considerable cost to us, it’s the right thing to do to maintain a sustainable space environment.

Unfortunately, the satellites deployed on Thursday were significantly impacted by a geomagnetic storm on Friday. These storms cause the atmosphere to warm and atmospheric density at our low deployment altitudes to increase. In fact, onboard GPS suggests the escalation speed and severity of the storm caused atmospheric drag to increase up to 50 percent higher than during previous launches. The Starlink team commanded the satellites into a safe-mode where they would fly edge-on (like a sheet of paper) to minimize drag—to effectively “take cover from the storm”—and continued to work closely with the Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron and LeoLabs to provide updates on the satellites based on ground radars.

But when they tried to exit safe mode and begin the process of raising the satellites to their operational orbit, most of them were prevented from exiting safe mode due to atmospheric drag.

Preliminary analysis show the increased drag at the low altitudes prevented the satellites from leaving safe-mode to begin orbit raising maneuvers, and up to 40 of the satellites will reenter or already have reentered the Earth’s atmosphere. The deorbiting satellites pose zero collision risk with other satellites and by design demise upon atmospheric reentry—meaning no orbital debris is created and no satellite parts hit the ground. This unique situation demonstrates the great lengths the Starlink team has gone to ensure the system is on the leading edge of on-orbit debris mitigation.

So, it looks like the most recent Starlink launch, while it delivered its payloads into the intended orbit, may be a close to total loss due to solar activity and its effects on the Earth’s atmosphere.

Note that SpaceX has apparently “gifted” us with the use of “demise” as a verb to mean disintegrate or burn up. The only prior use of this word as a verb I can find in reference works is in the technical legal sense of transferring property, usually by inheritance. Maybe SpaceX is implying something like the old test pilot jargon when speaking of ejecting from an airplane soon to be a flaming wreck on the ground, “giving it back to the taxpayers”.


My deliver estimate for StarLink service was pushed back from “late 2021” to “summer 2022” not that long ago. This will likely further impact my delivery. ):

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Well, my old-fashioned hard copy “Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language” (1989) lists “demise” as both a verb and a noun, “1. death or decease, 2. termination of existence or operation”. There are several other listed meanings.

The word was probably more commonly used on the other side of the Atlantic, and in the last Century. Perhaps SpacEx is setting a higher standard by hiring genuinely educated Arts graduates for their Public Affairs department instead of the usual credentialed indoctrinated snowflakes?


Do they break out definitions separately for the noun and verb usage of the word? The reference I used, based upon the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © 2022 lists broad definitions for the word as a noun:

  1. death or decease.
  2. termination of existence or operation: the demise of the empire.
  3. Law.
    • a death or decease occasioning the transfer of an estate.
    • a conveyance or transfer of an estate.
  4. Government. transfer of sovereignty, as by the death or deposition of the sovereign.

But when used as a verb, the definitions are narrow and specialised.

(used with object)

  1. Law. to transfer (an estate or the like) for a limited time; lease.
  2. Government. to transfer (sovereignty), as by the death or abdication of the sovereign.

(used without object)

  1. Law. to pass by bequest, inheritance, or succession.

I do not recall having heard “demise” used as a verb before, which makes sense since I don’t read specialised publications that would use the technical sense of the verb.

What I wonder is whether the word is becoming used as a verb along with the general trend in U.S. English of “verbing nouns” and/or used by SpaceX as a euphemism, just as other space companies prefer “anomaly” to “Earth-shattering kaboom”.


Yes, but Webster’s is a typical cryptic dictionary, leaving lots of room for discussion about uses of the word. The definition is over an inch (2.54 centimeters) of microtype, mostly relating to its meanings as a noun, mainly involving Law and Government as per Random House. However, “demised” and “demising” are listed as parts of the (intransitive?) verb form. That makes is seem like Webster’s would not find it novel to say “The satellite has demised” – which is a form of expression I do not recall ever hearing or reading.

Webster’s principal listed use of the transitive form of the verb is in Law: “to pass to the king by bequest, inheritance, or succession”.

There is a fascinating Great Courses 24-lecture series by Prof. John McWhorter “Language A to Z”. One of his observations is that language is like an old-fashioned lava lamp. Words slowly rise up into common use, changing their shape & definitions, and then slide gently back to the depths until their next resurrection. A highly recommended series!


Here is Scott Manley with more details on the loss of the Starlink satellites and how solar activity led to their demise. Interestingly, it wasn’t that the satellites’ thrusters couldn’t overcome the atmospheric drag, but rather that the attitude control magnetorquers were unable to rotate the satellites into the correct orientation to fire their thrusters against the atmospheric drag forcing the satellite in a stable attitude.