May 13, 2024 - Technology

Hey, I'm orbiting here

Illustration of an atom shape as a flight path for a rocket, a satellite, and the Moon with the Earth as the nucleus.  

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Planet Earth gained a record number of satellites — nearly 3,000 — last year, exacerbating orbital congestion.

Why it matters: Crowded orbits and collisions between satellites raise the risk of creating dangerous space debris and making parts of the planet's orbit unusable.

By the numbers: 2,877 spacecraft were launched in 2023, a nearly 15% increase from the previous year, according to a new report from satellite data firm Slingshot Aerospace.

  • That brought the total number of satellites in Earth's orbit to 12,597 at the end of last year.

Between the lines: More than 3,300 satellites orbiting Earth are inactive, "taking up valuable space," Melissa Quinn, general manager at Slingshot Aerospace, said in a statement.

Threat level: With less room to operate, satellites are getting closer to one another — sometimes uncomfortably so.

The bottom line: The satellite industry's growth — coupled with concerns about space debris and challenges for space insurance — "necessitate ongoing vigilance and adaptation to ensure the sustainability of space operations," per the report.

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