Space storms, and “space weather” in general, pose a hazard to technological systems and humans in space as well as on Earth. The electromagnetic disturbances and particle radiation can cause disruption of satellite operations, communications, navigation, and electric power distribution grids on ground, leading to a variety of societal problems and economic losses.

Satellite drag

On February 3, 2022, SpaceX launched 49 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit (200-250 km altitude), from where they were to be lifted to their final orbits at higher altitude. As the satellites were launched, a geomagnetic storm was waning, but was soon followed by another one. The energy dumped into the upper atmosphere increased the atmospheric drag, which may have been the cause of re-entry of 40 of those 49 spacecraft. The event made the news: Business insider, MIT Technology Review, New York Times, and others.

As the storms that caused the de-orbiting were nothing out of the ordinary, and the Solar activity that varies on a 11-year cycle is on the rise, we need better awareness of the space weather hazards as we continue to develop our space-based assets.

Sunspot number vs times