Aurora-Palooza and Solar Storm Delay SpaceX Launch, Affect Oil Rigs in Canada

The launch of Starlink satellites by SpaceX and the operation of multiple oil rigs in Canada were both delayed and disrupted on February 27. The delay was caused by a powerful solar storm. The storm was recognized by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as a severe G3 geomagnetic storm. It was brought on by two coronal mass ejections  (CMEs) and streams of fast solar wind moving in Earth’s direction. Due to the storm, aurora displays could be seen in North America and Europe.

In order to prevent future occurrences like the one in February 2022, SpaceX has been collaborating with NOAA. As a result, the company postponed the Starlink satellites launch until the storm passed. This would allow them to be launched about four and a half hours beyond the original plan. The G3 storm made GPS signals unreliable, temporarily interfering with drilling operations on several Canadian oil rigs.

The interruption of drilling operations was brought on by the storm’s interference with GPS signals. The drilling rigs depend on GPS signals for accurate navigation. The disruption was caused by geomagnetically induced currents found in the ground. This assessment was given by Tamitha Skov. Tamitha is a U.S. solar physicist and expert on space weather. As solar maximum draws closer, the probability of these interruptions happening more frequently is foreseen. As the solar cycle approaches its maximum, it is likely that auroras and disruptions will become more frequent over the next two years. These disruptions are like those experienced by SpaceX and the Canadian oil companies 

The 25th solar cycle on record is already proving to be significantly stronger than what NASA and NOAA had initially forecast. Strong G4 and G5 storms have not yet occurred during this cycle. However, some low-orbiting satellites have already started dropping in altitude as a result of the inflated atmosphere.

There are only around four G5 storms per cycle. These four G5 storms per cycle are capable of damaging power transformers and causing severe power outages. Experts are concerned about the environment’s vulnerability to a G5 storm. Their concern arises from the rapidly expanding number of operational satellites and space debris fragments. Lack of knowledge about the locations of space debris and the loss of control over operational satellites could cause collisions. These collisions would increase the amount of debris in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The recent solar storm had an impact on operations at SpaceX and an oil rig in Canada. This demonstrates the necessity of collaboration between the scientific community, governments as well as businesses. The collaboration will aim to lessen the space weather effects on Earth. After an incident in February 2022, SpaceX has paid closer attention to space weather predictions. In addition, it has been giving NOAA data from Starlink’s onboard sensors. This data aims to help them enhance their space weather forecasting models.

It is essential to keep tracking and predicting space weather events’ effects on Earth and its infrastructure. The anticipation is that these events will occur more frequently in the coming years, which is why this is happening. By doing this, we can make sure that we are equipped to reduce the risks brought on by these occurrences. Also, we can keep using space-based technology to our advantage.