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The plot below shows that most of the SpaceX Starlink satellites have moved from circa 450 km to circa 550 kilometers already, using their argon-based ion engines.

A few, along with four unidentified debris objects have remained at 450 km.

But one has moved down to 390 km.

Since it's only one object and six have remained around 450 km, it makes me wonder if this is active, propulsive deorbiting, or if this is how fast these big flat satellites would decay without propulsion or attitude control.

Question: Is SpaceX propulsively deorbiting a Starlink satellite already?

plotted using https://pastebin.com/cFLhTJVq From What are these four “debris” objects along with the Starlink satellites?

"Starlink 60" plus debris June 1 and 29, 2019

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Yes!

The current status (end of June 2019) according to a SpaceX statement via Michael Sheetz is:

  • 45 in final orbits
  • 5 still raising, in final orbits shortly
  • 5 paused during raise for adjustments, will continue
  • 2 intentionally being deorbited to show debris disposal
  • 3 stopped communicating, "passively" deorbiting
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    $\begingroup$ "show" as in PR or as in "demonstrate a regulatory requirement"? $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Jun 29 '19 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @JörgWMittag the original wording seems to be "to simulate an end of life disposal" so I would say "test" instead of "show" but I kept the source tweet. $\endgroup$ – jkavalik Jun 29 '19 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm wondering why they didn't built in the fail safe that if communication to one of the satellites stop they actively deorbit. That would be good for keeping the crowded region cleaner and they wouldn't have to deorbit functional satellites but rather just get rid of their trash. $\endgroup$ – GittingGud Jul 1 '19 at 6:34
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    $\begingroup$ @GittingGud well, probably depends on why they do not communicate - either loss of attitude control or loss of electricity would not allow for any "automatic" actions. $\endgroup$ – jkavalik Jul 1 '19 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ @jkavalik You're right I didn't think about the reason why the lost communication is likely to be misaligned solar panels and loss of electricity. $\endgroup$ – GittingGud Jul 1 '19 at 16:34

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