Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! Nope, it's just another satellite. In recent years, satellites have gone from cosmic wonders to commonplace space clutter, with over 1,400 of them being sent into low Earth orbit (LEO) in 2021 alone.
Things started relatively slowly following the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik – the world's first man-made satellite – in 1957. For decades, less than 100 satellites were launched every year, but numbers have been skyrocketing since the early 2010s.
According to the United Nations' Outer Space Objects Index, as of September 2021 there are approximately 7,500 active satellites circling the Earth. And that's just the beginning. Some countries and private companies are planning to add to the cosmic collection by sending up "megaconstellations" containing thousands of satellites. That might make some technologies work better on Earth, but it also brings issues.
"It causes a space traffic management problem; it will exacerbate the proliferation of space debris; it is interfering with astronomy and stargazing, and the rocket launches and reentries cause atmospheric pollution," said Aaron Boley, an astronomer at the University of British Columbia.
Some satellite stuff:
- Satellites orbit the Earth at approximately 18,000 mph (28,968 km/h).
- The first living creature sent into orbit was a dog named Laika, who flew aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957.
- The largest man-made satellite is the International Space Station.