In 2019, a large number of satellites and spacecraft will be lifted and sent into orbital this year, and this will enhance our understanding of space and other phenomena on earth that impacts us, including climate change, natural disasters, and agricultural patterns.
But to put things in perspective, what would be the exact number of satellites that will revolve around the earth’s orbit many of you must be wondering.
As per the Index of Objects Launched into Outer Space which is prepared by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), 4,987 satellites revolved around the Earth’s orbit during the start of this year. The number of satellites revolving around the Earth showed an increase of 2.68% as compared to last year.
UNOOSA observed that in 2018, 382 objects were launched into space, while in 2017 453 objects were launched, making 2017 a year of record launches. The decrease in number of launches in 2017 could be attributed to the fact that Planet has fulfilled its objective of imaging Earth’s landmass on a daily basis and now the company’s focus is on maintenance of current satellite constellations.
Number of launches to date (1957-2018)
In the history of satellites, since the launch of first satellite Sputnik in 1957, around 8,378 satellites have been sent to space, as per the data by UNOOSA. These days there are 4.994 satellites in orbit, out of which only 7 are revolving around planets other than earth.
The launch of Sputnik triggered the era of the space race and consequently, there was a growth in the number of satellites launched which continued to peak till 1990. The next 2 decades witnessed crests and troughs and the number of launches was at their lowest in 2005. From 2013 onwards, the numbers continued to rise again primarily due to the Cubesat launches. In the next decade, the numbers are expected to follow the same pattern, albeit at a steady pace.
The top 3 launch sites are Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia( 2 101 launches); Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan( 1 734 launches); and Cape Canaveral in the United States( 1203 launches).
How many active satellites?
It may sound surprising but the majority of satellites revolving around the earth are not active and operational.
According to the data by Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) which keeps a record of the number of operational satellites, out of 4,987 satellites that revolved around the earth in 2018, only 1,957 are operational. This means currently less than 40% of the satellites that are in orbit are operational.
The highest number of satellites last year was launched for the purpose of communications and Earth Observation. Demonstration satellites came at the third spot. Companies, governments and militaries were the three main users in the past year, with more than 800 satellites launched for commercial applications.