Unexpected solar weather is causing satellites to plummet from orbit

In late 2021, operators in the European Space Agency’s (ESA) constellation Swarm noticed something worrying: satellites, which measure the magnetic field around Earth, began sinking toward the atmosphere at an unusually fast rate – up to 10 times faster than before. The shift coincided with the start of the new solar cycle, and experts think it could be the start of some rough years for spacecraft orbiting our planet.

“In 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 diving virtually. The sinking rate between December and April was 20 kilometers [12 miles] per annum.”

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