SpaceX has deorbited an additional two Starlink satellites following what appeared to be a coordinated rapid orbit lowering prior to reentry.
The two satellites were launched aboard separate flights almost a year apart. The first, Starlink-67 was launched on May 24, 2019, as part of the second batch of 60 satellites. Starlink-1087 was aboard one of a pair of Starlink missions launched in January 2020.
According to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the two satellites performed a “coordinated” rapid deorbit over the last two to three weeks.
Starlink-67 reentered the Earth’s atmosphere first burning up over the Indian Ocean on May 27. Starlink-1087 followed early this morning burning up near Wake Island in the Pacific at 00:14 UTC.
As has become the norm when a Starlink satellite is deorbited, SpaceX did not release any information regarding the decision. We are left to speculate that the satellites were either decommissioned or, the deorbiting was some kind of test to ensure the planned mega constellation could be managed responsibly.
With the two additional satellites, a total of five Starlink satellites out of the 422 launched since February 2018 have been confirmed to be deorbited. If you assume that all were decommissioned due to one or another fault, a total of 1.2% of every Starlink satellite launched was suboptimal.
With a sample size of just 422 satellites, a failure rate of 1.2% is unfortunate but not catastrophic. However, when you consider that SpaceX plans to launch more than 10,000 satellites, it starts to add up to a lot of dead or dying satellites in orbit.
As a result, the company’s ability to quickly deorbit Starlink satellites will be vital to ensuring SpaceX can responsibly manage the mega constellation.