SpaceX appears to have successfully deorbited a Starlink communications satellite for the first time.
Over the last 12 months, SpaceX has launched 300 satellites as the company begins to build out its Starlink mega constellation. Once complete, the constellation is expected to be comprised of up to 12,000 satellites and will offer global broadband access.
In order to ensure that the 12,000 satellites are managed responsibly, SpaceX has touted each satellite’s ability to be deorbited safely in the event of a fault or at the end of the satellite’s operational lifespan.
Early this month, SpaceX began deorbiting Starlink 46, one of 60 satellites launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on May 24, 2019.
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Starlink 46 was noted to be in a shallow orbit of 164 x 184 kilometres on February 20. Later that day, the satellite dropped off appearing to have completed reentry.
With no official statement from SpaceX forthcoming, it is currently unclear why this specific satellite was chosen and if the procedure was just a test or a necessity.
In addition to Starlink 46, SpaceX appear to have lowered the orbit of at least one other Starlink satellite. The orbit or this particular satellite was lowered in mid-2019 and has remained steady at an altitude of around 300 kilometres. The current operational status of the satellite and the possibility of it being deorbited are unknown.