Unexpected solar weather knocks satellites out of orbit

At the end of 2021, operators of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm constellation noticed something worrying: the satellites, which measure the magnetic field around the Earth, began to descend towards the atmosphere at a speed unusually fast – up to 10 times faster than before. The change coincided with the start of the new solar cycle, and experts believe it could be the start of a tough few years for spacecraft orbiting our planet.

“Over the last five, six years, the satellites have sunk about two and a half kilometers [1.5 miles] a year,” Anja Stromme, ESA’s Swarm mission manager, told Space.com. “But since December of last year, they’ve been virtually diving. The sink rate between December and April was 20 kilometers [12 miles] per year.”

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