One of a pair of SpaceX Starlink prototype satellites has met a fiery end burning up in Earth’s atmosphere after being actively deorbited.
The TinTin B Starlink prototype satellite reentered Earth’s atmosphere between 03:20 and 04:40 UTC on August 8. The satellite is the ninth of the Starlink constellation to be decommissioned since the first in February 2020.
The two Starlink prototypes were launched aboard a Falcon 9 on February 22, 2018 as a secondary payload to the Spanish Earth observation satellite, Paz. The launch was also significant as it utilised the last of the Falcon 9 Block 3 boosters and was the first mission to attempt a fairing catch with the Mr. Steven recovery ship.
Following a successful launch, the TinTin A and B Starlink prototype satellites were deployed into low Earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 500 kilometers at an inclination of 97.5°.
The satellites were then supposed to have their orbits raised to an altitude of around 1,125 kilometres. However, following a change in the planned operational altitude of the Starlink constellation, the satellites remained at approximately the same orbit that they had been deployed in.
Originally designed with a 12-month operational lifespan, TinTin A and B remained in a stable orbit for more than two years.
In April 2020, the two Starlink prototypes appeared to be beginning a controlled deorbit. Four months later, the first of the two satellites, TinTin B had been lowered significantly enough that it burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, a fiery end for the diminutive pioneer.
Although it appears to be in the process of a controlled deorbit, TinTin B’s sister satellite, TinTin A is still in a stable orbit at approximately 480 kilometers above Earth.
TinTin B is the ninth Starlink satellite to be deorbited. Worrying, an additional 17 appear to be dead in orbit around Earth according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.