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How many satellites are there orbiting the earth?
16-11-2021

How many satellites are there orbiting the earth?

According to Visual Capitalist, in April of 2020, there were nearly 6,000 satellites orbiting our tiny planet. Around 60% of them are space junk. Only roughly 40% are operational, making that 2,666 operational satellites cycle the globe.

Space is open for business! Euroconsult estimates that over the coming decade 990 new satellites will be launched on average every year. Therefore, by 2028 there could be around 15,000 satellites in orbit.

What is the purpose of these satellites?

The space has long been used for navigation. Historically sailors relied on the stars to orientate themselves. Now we have satellites for GPS navigation and many other applications.

The main purpose of these satellites is commercial. About 61% of them provide communication services including satellite TV, Internet of Things (IoT), global Internet, etc.

However, to a lower extent, they are also used for Earth observation purposes (446), navigation and GPS (97), Tech demonstration and development (87) among others. Also, satellites can be tasked to serve multiple purposes. 

Who owns all these satellites?

There are many organizations launching and controlling them. However, currently, SpaceX founded by Elon Musk it is the largest commercial operator of satellites on the planet. OneWeb satellites are the biggest provider in the UK with 74 satellites in orbit.

Even though the US and Russia (at the time USSR) were the two countries closely leading the space race during the 1950s and 1960s, now the US operates nearly half of them (1,308). China comes second (356), Russia third (167) and the UK fourth (130).

What does the future hold?

Currently, the space race has become more collaborative and commercialized in comparison to the historical nationalistic competition between Cold War rivals.

This cooperation is allowing reduced launching costs by as much as $6 million per flight. Together with improved technology and commercial partnerships we are definitely moving towards a much more crowded orbit.

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