The rapid proliferation of satellites launched into space primarily for internet communication pose many threats including exacerbating climate change (from rocket exhaust and cloud storage), interference with astronomy studies (light pollution and radiofrequency interference), space junk-e-waste, increased risk of in-space and earth collisions, ubiquitous health threat to wildlife and those with or susceptible to electromagnetic radiation sensitivities.
Humans have sent 9,158 spacecrafts since 1957. Most spacecrafts are spun closely to the planet in a zone called the low-Earth orbit, or within approximately 1,931 kilometres from terra firma and currently, about 2,200 of this lot are still functioning. However, private companies are pushing to create globe-encircling networks of ultra-fast internet satellites through the end of this decade.
Aerospace engineer at Analytical Graphics, Inc. and the director for the Center of Space Standards and Innovation, Dan Oltrogge’s educated guess says that about 57,000 new satellites may be orbiting Earth by 2029, up to 25 times the number of active spacecraft today.
Oltrogge’s new animation above shows the unprecedented year-by-year rollout of the new satellites likely to be launched collectively by SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb and other companies. The animation was featured at the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) 23rd annual Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, DC.
As tens of thousands of spacecraft are set to arrive inevitably in the low-Earth orbit, the risk of satellite collision and the issue of increasing space debris cannot be ignored. “We’re going to end up with potentially a 10-fold increase in the number of active satellites, a 10-fold increase in the number of debris, and therefore a huge increase in the number of encounters and things that the operators are going to have to sift through and figure out,” Oltrogge said in a statement.