An Answer for Adam, Part II -- re: satellites (plus a confession)
Wed, 29 Apr 1998 22:29:56 -0500 (EST)

Here is the much awaited (yeah, right...) second entry from the FoRK
department of: "Adam Asks and the Diva Answers"

[As a reminder to why I am posting this trivia to the list, it's because "Adam
wants to know"! As you may recall, several weeks ago I posted statistics
concerning the population of Asian-Indians in the U.S.A. and that this posting
represented me answering one of three questions that Adam had e-mailed to me.
I had intended to e-mail the answers to other two questions within a few days,
but then life got busy and I never got around to it (I am sure you all know
how that happens). Today I shall attempt an answer to a slightly
tougher question]

Disclaimer: The answer I am providing today is the best that I could find. If
anyone on this list can provide something better please feel free to do so.

>Q2: How many man-made satellites are in orbit around the Earth right now?

This answer is not as cut and dried as one might think. New satellites are
being projected into orbit on a regular basis and old satellites are
continually being declared "decayed" or "no longer in orbit".
Although estimates are possible, they are not valid for long.
For instance, Iridium satellites are being deployed on a regular basis
[see: Rohit's posting of April 9th/98 "For the Record: 90% of Iridium now
up..." for the number of Iridium satellites that have been deployed in
recent months].

Okay, enough preamble... here's the answers I could find:

a) The Windows to the Universe website at
tackles this exact question! Their answer [see below] was posted on
Sept.11th/97 and hence is already more than 7 months out of date (and given
Iridium's activity this means that this can only be taken as an estimate at
best). According to Windows to the Universe:

"It depends on how you define satellite. One definition of the word satellite
is a body that orbits a larger body. If you take this as the definition of
satellite the the answer to the question is millions! This includes actual
spacecraft, and any man-made debris that has been made during the past 30 years
of space exploration.

The more narrow definition of satellite, a manufactured vehicle intended to
orbit the earth, lessens the count significantly. This definition includes
only spacecraft. The Goddard Space Flight Center's Satellite Situation Report
updated on June 11th 1997 (ed. note: which makes this number even further
out-of-date) lists 2,271 satellites currently in orbit (2,386 more satellites
have already fallen into decayed orbits). Russia has the most satellites
currently in orbit, with 1,324 satellites, followed by the U.S. with 658"

Hmmmmm... quick math indicates that Russia is "winnning" the race to fill the
universe with junk by a ratio of 2:1

b) If you want an up-to-date report on the number of satellites that are in
orbit,the only method to accomplish this (as far as I can figure out) is to
visit take a look at the Monthly Satellite Situation Report published by the
Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC):

This report gives detailed information about every satellite in orbit or
in decay BUT it does not provide summary data THUS if one wants to know how
many satellites are in orbit as of March 31st, 1998 (this is the latest
published report) they would have to go through and manually count the
number of satellites in the report. I may have no social life of which to
speak, but even I am not desperate enough for entertainment to undertake this
task. Perhaps there is someone on FoRK who will feel so inclined as to
undertake this task... but it is not I, said the little red hen.

The Satellite Situation Report also gives a weekly update:

The weekly report is a supplement to the monthly report. For the period of
April 16th to the 22nd, there were 8 newly cataloged objects and 7 objects were
reported as NO longer in orbit. If this is an indication of overall satellite
activity ( i.e.: that for every new object launched, an old object goes
into decay) then the earlier number given from the Windows on the World Site
may not be so far off....

So, Adam, the answer that I am prepared to supply to you is this:

c) There are roughly 2,300 satellites in orbit (give or take a few dozen) at the
current time ... if you want a more precise answer than this, go the GSFC
Satellite report and start counting!

Respectfully submitted by:

Janest (just call me Diva)

P.S./ Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my query regarding
technology and higher education. Your insights and comments were
appreciated -- I knew that the collective wisdom of FoRK would be better than
the stuff I was finding in the literature! And now I need to make a
confession: I cancelled the job interview that I had lined up and thus I won't
be making the presentation. Essentially, Cleveland State University was
prepared to offer me a pittance of a salary for this position and I decided
that I wasn't willing to move to Cleveland to work for slave wages even if it
was a way cool job. So .... it is back to the drawing board for me in terms of
my next possible career move. I learned a valuable lesson from this little
escapade -- don't apply for a really cool job if the salary is incredibly sucky
because in the end you know you won't take it and thus the interview
process will do nothing but waste their time and yours. I figure I did the
honorable thing by cancelling the interview.... but *sigh* this still leaves
me stuck in the boonies of upstate NY *argh* :-(