Since the SpaceX constellation of internet satellites called Starlink has been fully operational, it’s been wonderful – fast and responsive broadband everywhere, no matter where in the world you find yourself.
Elon Musk himself sent the first tweet via Starlink in October 2019, but that was on the original pilot constellation of just 60 satellites. Now there are thousands up there, efficiently running on solar power to connect everyone to the web. Well, up to yesterday, that is. Now they’re silent; offline.
A massive solar storm of radioactive particles, generated by a huge solar flare ejected by the Sun, has taken the whole mesh network down. With no atmosphere up there and little protection from Earth’s magnetic field, almost all the communication satellites orbiting the planet have been rendered inoperable; temporarily at least.
Starlink satellites are small, and along with cubesats and micro satellites most vulnerable to space storms and electromagnetic disruption. Their survivability rate is low, and SpaceX is yet to confirm the full damage assessment. Customers and businesses who depend on Starlink connectivity will just have to wait. A few of the bigger, more robust geostationary satellites are still live, but they’re used mainly for broadcast services, and not synchronous comms – they’re just too slow.
Down here on the ground we have our own problems. Many devices, connectors and controllers on the internet of everything have also been fried, and power utilities and microgrids are scrambling to get back online. Every smart city runs on electricity and precision electronics, with instant feedback from 5G networks; now they’re all looking a bit dumb. Try riding a driverless taxi that’s not online – you can’t. Better to hunker down and ‘party’ like it’s 1859!
But there’s one tech giant that seems to have weathered the onslaught of the solar superstorm successfully and is running at near perfect service levels globally. They have their own, private undersea cables, fibre optic networks, and subterranean power generators, well protected from all this atmospheric carnage. It’s Amazon.