SpaceX has lost contact with three satellites in its new Starlink orbiting network, with the errant craft now destined to fall out of orbit and burn up in the atmosphere.
The firm had launched 60 of the satellites — built to beam internet to the ground — into low orbits on May 23, 2019, with plans to eventually place 12,000 in orbit.
The private aerospace firm was initially able to communicate with all of the orbiting satellites, until three developed a fault.
SpaceX assert that the three out-of-contact satellites will eventually disintegrate harmlessly during re-entry.
Some experts have previously expressed concern, however, over the potential for such satellite mega-constellations to add to dangerous orbiting space debris.
In a worst-case scenario, the build up of such space junk could one day prevent all space operations for generations until cleared.
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SpaceX has lost contact with three satellites in its new Starlink orbiting network (pictured, artist's impression), with the errant craft now destined to burn up in the atmosphere
SpaceX have reported that the other 57 high-speed-internet-broadcasting Starlink satellites are performing as expected, with 45 having already reached their final intended orbits of 342 miles (550 kilometres) above the Earth's surface.
Five more of the spacecraft are still in the process of increasing their orbital altitude using their on-board thrusters, while another five while join them pending additional system checks.
The final two satellites will join their three malfunctioning counterparts burning up in the Earth's atmosphere — this fate, however, was deliberate, with SpaceX engineers wanting to test the de-orbiting process by manoeuvring them towards the Earth.
'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,' a spokesperson for SpaceX said in a statement.
The communications failure of three of the Starlink satellites, however, is prompting concern in certain areas of the aerospace community — with some experts expressing concern about how the constellation might add to space debris.
According to the European Space Agency, there are presently around 2,000 operational satellites orbiting around our planet, a number that will have increased six-fold, at least, by the time that the Starlink constellation is completed in 2025.
Higher numbers of satellites means a greater risk of collisions — which, in turn, have the potential to create more debris to complicate the problem, joining the 30,000-odd pieces of orbiting space junk over 3.9 inches (10 centimetres) in length.
Those satellites which lose communication with ground control, like the three recent malfunctioning Starlink craft, are of particular concern, as they would be out of control and potentially difficult to safely remove from orbit.
The firm had launched 60 of the satellites — built to beam internet to the ground — into low orbits on May 23, 2019, with plans to eventually place 12,000 in orbit
Speaking of the risks of such mega-constellation launching operations, European Space Agency scientist Stijn Lemmens told Scientific American in May that 'the worst case is: You launch all your satellites, you go bankrupt, and they all stay there.'
'Then you have thousands of new satellites without a plan of getting them out of there. And you would have a Kessler-type of syndrome.'
The Kessler syndrome is a hypothetical situation in which there is so much space junk in orbit that space operations might be rendered impossible for generations.
SpaceX, however, asserts that the Starlink craft have been built to ensure that the company does not end up polluting the space immediately around the Earth.
According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, each satellite uses data on the positions of other orbiting vehicles, provided by the US Air Force, to avoid any collisions.
Furthermore, in April. the Federal Communications Commission granted the firm's request to place its initial batch of Starlink craft closer to the Earth, to ensure they could fall out orbit more quickly.
The private aerospace firm was initially able to communicate with all of the orbiting satellites, pictured just prior to deployment, until three developed a fault
In addition, Mr Musk had noted before that there was always the potential for part of the Starlink network to fail to operate as