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WASHINGTON — Three of the 60 satellites SpaceX launched last month to begin its broadband megaconstellation have lost contact with ground control teams, a SpaceX spokesperson said June 28.
Those three satellites will deorbit "passively," the spokesperson said, meaning Earth's gravity and atmospheric drag will pull them down until they burn up in the atmosphere.
Observers - Starlink - Satellites - Orbit - May
Observers had noticed some Starlink satellites had not initiated orbit raising after being released May 23 from a Falcon 9 upper stage into a 440-kilometer low Earth orbit. SpaceX said May 31 that all 60 satellites were initially responsive.
SpaceX's spokesperson, in their June 28 statement, said the company will intentionally deorbit two functioning satellites as well, in order to test the spacecraft's ability to propulsively deorbit.
Satellites - Ground - Service - Spokesperson - Design
"Three satellites which initially communicated with the ground but are no longer in service, will passively deorbit," the spokesperson said. "Due to their design and low orbital position, all five deorbiting satellites will disintegrate once they enter Earth's atmosphere in support of SpaceX's commitment to a clean space environment."
SpaceX Founder Elon Musk stressed that the early Starlink satellites had a high risk of not working given the quantity of newly developed technology they carry.
Satellites - Fact - Possibility - Satellites - May
"It's possible that some of these satellites may not work, and in fact [there's a] small possibility that all of the satellites will not work," he said during a May 15 call with reporters. "But these are a great design and we've done everything we can to maximize probability of success."
SpaceX sought and received approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to operate a portion of its megaconstellation in a 550-kilometer orbit instead of its originally planned 1,150-kilometer altitude. The lower orbit means the satellites will deorbit within five years without propulsion, according to SpaceX.
SpaceX - Spokesperson - Starlink - Satellites
SpaceX's spokesperson said 45 of the 60 Starlink satellites have...
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