How many satellites are orbiting Earth?


Thousands of the satellites orbiting Earth are small – like this cubical satellite seen right here being launched from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA, CC BY-NC

It looks as if each week, one other rocket is launched into space carrying rovers to Mars, vacationers or, mostly, satellites. The concept that “space is getting crowded” has been round for a number of years now, however simply how crowded is it? And how crowded is it going to get?

How many satellites are orbiting Earth?

I’m a professor of physics and director of the Center for Space Science and Technology on the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. Many satellites that have been put into orbit have gone useless and burned up within the environment, however 1000’s stay. Groups that observe satellite launches do not all the time report the identical precise numbers, however the general development is obvious—and astounding.

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Since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik—the primary human-made satellite—in 1957, humanity has steadily been placing an increasing number of objects into orbit yearly. Over the the second half of the twentieth century, there was a sluggish however regular progress, with roughly 60 to 100 satellites launched yearly until the early 2010s.

But since then, the tempo has been growing dramatically.

By 2020, 114 launches carried round 1,300 satellites to space, surpassing the 1,000 new satellites per yr mark for the primary time. But no yr up to now compares to 2021. As of Sept. 16, roughly 1,400 new satellites have already begun circling the Earth, and that may solely enhance because the yr goes on. Just this week, SpaceX deployed another 51 Starlink satellites into orbit.

How many satellites are orbiting Earth?
The ever-shrinking measurement of know-how has led to tiny satellites just like the one college students are engaged on right here. Credit: Edwin Aguirre/University of Massachusetts Lowell, CC BY-ND

Small satellites, quick access to orbit

There are two predominant causes for this exponential progress. First, it has by no means been simpler to get a satellite into space. For instance, on Aug. 29, 2021, a SpaceX rocket carried a number of satellites—together with one built by my students—to the International Space Station. On Oct. 11, 2021, these satellites will deploy into orbit, and the variety of satellites will enhance once more.

The second cause is that rockets can carry extra satellites extra simply—and cheaply—than ever earlier than. This enhance is not resulting from rockets getting extra highly effective. Rather, satellites have reduced in size due to the electronics revolution. The overwhelming majority—94%—of all spacecraft launched in 2020 have been smallsats—satellites that weigh less than around 1,320 pounds (600 kilograms).

The majority of those satellites are used for observing Earth or for communications and web. With a objective of bringing the web to underserved areas of the globe, two private companies, Starlink by SpaceX and OneWeb collectively launched nearly 1,000 smallsats in 2020 alone. They are every planning to launch more than 40,000 satellites within the coming years to create what are referred to as “mega-constellations” in low-Earth orbit.

Several different corporations are eyeing this US$1 trillion market, most notably Amazon with its Project Kuiper .

Large satellite constellations – like SpaceX’s Starlink, seen within the video above – are set to dramatically enhance the variety of objects orbiting Earth and are already inflicting issues.

A crowded sky

With the large progress in satellites, fears of a crowded sky are beginning to come true. A day after SpaceX launched its first 60 Starlink satellites, astronomers started to see them blocking out the stars. While the affect on seen astronomy is straightforward to know, radio astronomers concern they might lose 70% sensitivity in certain frequencies due to interference from satellite megaconstellations like Starlink.

Experts have been finding out and discussing the potential problems posed by these constellations and methods the satellite companies could address them . These embrace lowering the quantity and brightness of satellites, sharing their location and supporting higher image-processing software program.

As low-Earth orbit will get crowded, concern about space debris will increase, as does a real possibility of collisions.

Future tendencies

Less than 10 years in the past, the democratization of space was a goal yet to be realized. Now, with student projects on the Space Station and greater than 105 countries having a minimum of one satellite in space, one may argue that that objective is inside attain.

Every disruptive technological development requires updates to the foundations—or the creation of latest ones. SpaceX has examined methods to lower the impact of Starlink constellations, and Amazon has disclosed plans to de-orbit their satellites within 355 days after mission completion. These and different actions by completely different stakeholders make me hopeful that commerce, science and human endeavors will discover sustainable options to this potential disaster.

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

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How many satellites are orbiting Earth? (2021, September 20)
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