Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on Twitter
Since the launch of Sputnik, thousands of satellites have been blasted off into space. Some of these satellites have crashed back into the atmosphere, others have escaped the Earth orbit and are flying off into the Solar System. But most are still orbiting the Earth. So, how many satellites in space?
All of the objects in space, whether they’re dead satellites, live satellites, or just pieces of space junk, are tracked by the US Space Surveillance Network. This group is able to predict when pieces of space junk are expected to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and can detect new man-made objects that enter Earth orbit. This agency also informs NASA when a piece of space debris is moving on a trajectory that might be hazardous for the space shuttle or International Space Station.
The Space Surveillance Network has tracked a total of more than 24,500 objects in space. And of those, it’s currently watching about 8,000 objects currently in orbit. So, you could say that there are currently 8,000 satellites in space. Approximately 560 of those objects in space are actually operational satellites, and the rest are dead satellites, or pieces of space debris. The SSN tracks objects as small as about 10 centimeters in diameter (about the size of a basketball). So there are many objects even smaller out there.
You can learn more about the US Space Surveillance Network from the United States Strategic Command website.
We have also recorded a whole episode of Astronomy Cast about space junk. Listen here, Episode 82: Space Junk.