The company claims that only a small fraction of the 49 satellites SpaceX put into orbit last week were able to withstand a geomagnetic storm. SpaceX claims that 40 Starlink satellites will "reenter the Earth's atmosphere" or have already reentered it.
With the intention of lifting them to higher altitudes, the satellites were placed into low-Earth orbit on Thursday. However, conditions in the atmosphere changed dramatically the next day, and many satellites were unable to reach their final orbit.
SpaceX cites GPS data to say that the storm caused atmospheric drag to rise up to 50% higher than it did during previous launches.
According to preliminary analysis, this increased drag reduced the chances that the satellites would reach their final orbit. NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports that SpaceX tried to save them but only nine satellites survived.
SpaceX stated that satellites that are unable to maintain orbit will explode as they enter Earth's atmosphere. This means no orbital debris or satellite parts will be created, and satellite-based internet connections can be brought to remote areas around the globe. SpaceX has launched over 2,000 Starlink satellites as of last month. It plans to increase that number.