A new report is making the rounds claiming about three percent of the SpaceX Starlink satellites the company has put into orbit have failed. According to the report, that number of satellites has seemingly failed because they are no longer maneuvering in orbit. Each of the satellites is fitted with an ion drive to allow it to maneuver to avoid collisions.
The data comes from an astronomer named Jonathan McDowell. He says that failure rate isn’t particularly alarming. However, if SpaceX gets its entire planned fleet into orbit, it could have as many as 1200 dead satellites. Starlink has been one of the companies biggest pushes, aiming to blanket the globe with broadband Internet coverage.
Starlink service will be offered only in the US, with some trials underway. The company has announced plans to open a public Beta test across the northern US and southern Canada within the next few months. CEO Elon Musk says that other countries would get service as soon as they receive regulatory approval.
Some fear that defective satellites could pose a hazard to other satellites orbiting the Earth. The first batch of 60 Starlink satellites were put into orbit in May 2019. So far, 775 satellites are in orbit. McDowell says that the failure rate is not egregious and is no worse than anyone else. It’s simply the constellation size and the number of potentially failed satellites in orbit that raise concern.
Other concerns have plagued the Starlink satellites. Notably, astronomers have been concerned that their brightness might interfere with observations of the heavens made from Earth-based telescopes. SpaceX has been trying various methods to reduce the brightness of the satellites, including special coatings and awnings.