There are thousands of satellites orbiting the earth today. These satellites are privately owned: some belong to governments, the military, and civilians. Thanks to their presence, anyone living on earth can get better access to the internet, enjoy watching TV and even use GPS without trouble.
SpaceX accounts for almost a third of the total satellites in orbit today. So, exactly how many Starlink satellites are in orbit? What do these satellites do, and why are so many in space?
Starlink satellites are among the thousands of satellites in space used for earth and space exploration. These stations from SpaceX are the most prevalent, with the operator being top of the list of satellite owners. if you’re new to word Starlink then must check what is starlink guide.
- How many Starlink satellites are in orbit?
- How does SpaceX add Starlink satellites in orbit?
- What happens when the Mega Constellation is full?
- What is the impact of the high number of Starlink satellites in space?
Earth has a little over 5,465 satellites in orbit. As of May 1st, 2022, these satellites then go around the earth in either the earth medium orbit, the low earth orbit, the geosynchronous and geostationary orbit, or the highly elliptical orbit.
From a list of all satellites in space from the UCS Satellite Database, SatelliteXplorer by ESRI shows that companies in the US own 59.53% of satellites in orbit today. Remarkably, the space transportation and communication giant, SpaceX, owns 38.71% of the total satellites orbiting the earth today.
So, how many of Musk’s Starlink satellites are in orbit?
Elon Must promises space internet connectivity for everyone on planet earth. Since it is a driver for interplanetary journeys pioneered by the genius behind SpaceX and Tesla, Starlink is among the most launched satellite into space.
SpaceX hopes to have 12,000 satellites in space by 2026. Consequently, the launches have been steadily ramped up, with over 50 launches made annually.
Inadvertently, SpaceX owns the single largest share of satellites in orbit. As of January 2022, SpaceX had 1,715 satellites in orbit and has since launched more. For instance, on September 24th, SpaceX launched another 52 Starlink satellites to the Low-earth orbit in Florida, bringing the total number of Starlink satellites in orbit to 3,451, according to Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer, and tracker of spaceflight activity.
To help you understand better, here is a breakdown of these numbers:
1. Satellites launched to orbit
Over the years, Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX have continued to launch more satellites into space. So far, the company has made 185 launches, and in 2022 alone, they are on their 45th launch, with the latest launch of 52 Starlink satellites being on October 5th.
It is safe to say that Elon’s dream to have a mega constellation of 42,000 satellites still lives on. The 52 satellites put SpaceX one step closer to having 4,400 spacecraft orbiting the earth.
The journey started with only 60 Starlink satellites aboard the Falcon 9 rocket on May 23rd, 2019. 6 more launches followed the project, all aimed to provide better internet connection from space.
These low-earth orbit satellites are instrumental to Musk’s plan to cover the globe and provide faster satellite internet at affordable prices.
2. Satellites still in orbit
Space is a rough place. There are often accidents with space debris or storms. In the wake of a recent geomagnetic storm, SpaceX lost a huge part of its Starlink Group 4 satellites.
In February, Starlink launched 49 satellites, but 40 of these were heavily damaged by a solar storm.
In addition to other Starlink satellites that have been disposed of completely, the satellites in orbit are around 3175.
SpaceX is also improving the current Starlink satellites to reduce the effect of orbital decay that consumes the satellite’s lifetime.
3. Number of satellites per launch
In recent years, the number of satellites put into space on every launch has been approximately 51-53. Using these figures, you can approximate that SpaceX sends about 258 Starlink satellites every month into orbit.
These numbers are on track to get nearly 4,400 satellites into orbit by the end of 2022, as planned by SpaceX.
Recent Starlink satellite launches have been the v 1.5, which comes equipped with inter-satellite laser communication and weighs up to 295 kg.
The launches happened in different batches, as detailed below by Jonathan McDowell:
|Prototype Launch 0 (Tintin)||2|
|Prototype Launch 1 (Vo. 9)||60|
|Group 1 early launch 2-8||420|
|Group 1 Virosat launches 9-17||533|
|Group 1 Virorsat Launch 19+||712|
|Group 2 V 1,5 launches||51|
|Group 3 launch 18/31||13|
|Group 3 V1.5 Launches||184|
|Group 4 V1.5 Launches||1476|
With these numbers, it is clear that Musk is quickly sending Starlink satellites into space, and this data will be outdated in no time.
4. Total planned satellites in orbit
It is clear that Elon Musk will not be stopping any time soon. So, the goal of having a global satellite internet connection is very much alive.
In the wake of this, Elon Musk has permission from the US Federal Telecommunications Commission to launch 12,000 satellites by 2026.
However, the ultimate goal is to have global coverage. For this, SpaceX has already filed paperwork for approval from the International Telecommunications Union to extend their connection to 42,000 Starlink satellites. These numbers also come with countless regulatory hurdles and the need for even more technological advances.
However, with these many satellites in orbit, astronomers and observers are raising concerns that it may affect their earth and space observation and even be a collision risk for other satellites in space.
We may not tell what the future holds, so we wait and see.
Like any space traveler or satellite, the journey to space is by hitching a ride on a rocket. SpaceX, on multiple accounts, has used the Falcon 9 rocket to send their Starlink satellites to space.
Usually, these rockets weigh several tons. After a launch, the rocket, which is initially placed vertically, penetrates the densest layer of the atmosphere. Using a flight plan, the rocket adjusts its nozzle to stay on its planned flight path.
When the rocket reaches a certain height, approximately 120 miles from the earth’s surface, smaller rockets are fired to change the position of the rocket from a vertical to a horizontal position. At this point, the launch vehicle separates from the satellites.
Once detached, the launch vehicle returns to earth while thrusters propel the satellites into space.
The Falcon 9 rocket used by SpaceX to launch Starlink satellites into space is a two-stage rocket, one of a kind, being the first orbital-class reusable rocket. Therefore, it has been used in multiple reflight trips. Consequently, space access costs become lower in SpaceX, making it possible for the company to launch satellites into orbit 45 times a year.
What happens when the Mega Constellation is full?
The night sky is a touchstone for all living things on earth. However, the view of the night sky changed when Elon Musk launched 60 miniature satellites from a single rocket. This was the beginning of his journey toward creating a mega constellation of thousands of satellites.
We can agree that he has made significant progress in his journey, but what happens when the constellation is full?
The first outcome of the mega constellation will be an internet connection with global coverage. When this happens, SpaceX will have almost space dominance, implying making the rules for satellite internet.
SpaceX will need to keep sending satellites to space to replace the damaged ones.
While Elon Musk continues to actualize his dream of sending 42,000 Starlink satellites into space, there have been concerns from different parties on the impact he will have.
For instance, the director general of the ESA, Josef Aschbacher, said that Elon now owns half of the active satellites in space, which gives him dominance in LEO.
Earlier this year, the Socrates also reported close encounters with spacecraft, where some pass 0,6 miles of each other. These events have become increasingly popular, and the reports highlight Starlink as the main culprit.
According to the database, Starlink satellites have over 1,600 close encounters weekly. These near-miss incidents even forced China’s Tiangong to take evasive action to avoid collision with Starlink Satellites.
Other concerned parties claim that the Starlink constellation is quickly damaging the space landscape.
The world is always moving towards better technology. Elon Musk, the genius behind SpaceX and Tesla, is key to some of the international advancements we experience or will come to experience in the future. With his Starlink satellites launched into orbit, the world may soon be an even smaller village.
Satellite internet will be an affordable and readily available product for all humans. So far, he has launched over 3,000 Starlink satellites into the low earth orbit, with more to come. The goal is to have 42,000 Starlink satellites in space. now, it is safe to say that the journey is moving on steadily.