Within the 4 months between January 1 and Could 1, 2021, a startling 836 satellites have been launched into orbit, pushing the full variety of energetic satellites to greater than 4,000 for the primary time. That’s on prime of a single-year enhance of 925 working satellites in 2020 and 304 in 2019, an accelerating progress sample that has been constructing since 2014. Given the plans of firms like Starlink, dramatic will increase in numbers of satellites appear destined to proceed, though the speed of change will virtually definitely decline.
UCS has tracked the variety of working satellites circulating the globe since 2005, and recurrently releases our UCS Satellite Database, free to the general public, with a great deal of supplemental knowledge. Our newest launch of the database finds that, as of Could 1, the full quantity operational satellites in Earth orbit is 4,084, including the 836 new satellites launched and subtracting roughly 120 that ceased operations since our final report.
Sooner or later, this acceleration will decelerate, as the present exponential progress sample shouldn’t be sustainable. The acceleration displays the deployment of main constellations of satellites that will probably be maintained however not massively expanded. Nonetheless, even with a slowdown within the price of enhance, complete numbers are sure to proceed to develop, and that might have implications for the planet.
Specifically, it will increase the chance of collisions between objects in area, which may create more room particles and enhance the prospect of extra collisions. Simply final yr, a collision nearly happened between a useless Russian satellite tv for pc and an outdated Chinese language rocket physique. That adopted the 2009 collision between an working US satellite tv for pc and a decommissioned Russian satellite tv for pc, one which led to no less than 823 massive items of particles on the time. If a series response does occur in area, it might considerably have an effect on society, as increasingly more components of our on a regular basis lives depend on space-based communications and knowledge.
As of Could 1, there have been practically 1,500 Starlink satellites in orbit, with 550 having been added through the first 4 months of 2021. In April the Federal Communications Fee approved a change in Starlink’s license that allowed it to function extra satellites at a decrease orbit than had beforehand been permitted. The constellation will now function at an altitude of 540 and 570 kilometers, and never increased than 580 kilometers. The restrict of 580 was a situation requested by Amazon to keep away from shut approaches to its Venture Kuiper satellites, and accepted by SpaceX.
Quite a lot of astronomical associations, involved concerning the affect that Starlink has had on astronomical observations, requested that the FCC perform an environmental assessment of the Starlink constellation. This request was denied, however the FCC did encourage SpaceX to proceed to work carefully with astronomers to mitigate the brightness of its satellites.
Area Stations and Orbital Alternatives
One new pattern doesn’t affect the UCS rely of working satellites: we don’t monitor objects that solely go by way of area briefly, so billionaires or others who would possibly fly up briefly after which return to floor is not going to enhance our satellite tv for pc numbers. Nonetheless, it’s price noting some information associated to area stations, that are counted.
China’s Area Station
On April 29 the primary and core element of China’s Area Station — Tiangong (Heavenly Palace) — was placed into orbit. Named Tianhe (Concord of Heavens), this primary module will function the management middle and residing quarters of the station. Two extra modules that can perform as laboratories will probably be launched in 2022. The area station will be capable of host three crew members at a time. China has declared that Tiangong will be open to host non-Chinese crews and science projects, and nine other nations have already signed on to fly experiments aboard Tiangong, which has an anticipated lifetime of 15 years.
Worldwide Area Station and Area Tourism
The Worldwide Area Station (ISS) is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024, with the potential for an extension to 2028. Within the meantime, plans for orbital tourism are shifting forward. Russia’s Roskosmos State Company has been reviewing a marketing strategy for the addition of a high-comfort module to the ISS, a luxurious orbital suite parked on the ISS providing personal cabins with huge home windows, private hygiene services, train gear and even Wi-Fi. Area vacationers could have a chance for area walks accompanied by an expert cosmonaut.
The journey, one to 2 weeks in length, will price $40 million per particular person. If the vacationer needs to increase the keep to a full month and embrace the area stroll, it might price an extra $20 million. How far these plans will progress relies on significant factors.
These journeys, nevertheless, wouldn’t be counted in our satellite tv for pc database.
Lastly, kudos to my colleague, Teri Grimwood, UCS Satellite tv for pc Database researcher, for monitoring down 28 items of data for every of those 4084 satellites. In the event you’d like electronic mail notification when the updates are made, please join here.