How many man-made satellites are currently orbiting the Earth?

Well, that 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 then the answer to our question is millions! This includes actual spacecraft, and any man-made debris that has been made during the past 30 years of space exploration.

People call this debris "space junk". "Space junk" orbits at a speed of roughly 7.5 kilometers/second. That is close to 17,000 miles/hour! Think of the damage even a small speck of paint could do to the space shuttle if impact occurred at such high speeds !

Another definition of satellite is a manufactured vehicle intended to orbit the Earth. This definition makes our count much less because it includes only spacecraft and not debris that orbits the Earth. The Goddard Space Flight Center's lists 2,271 satellites currently in orbit. Russia has the most satellites currently in orbit, with 1,324 satellites, followed by the U.S. with 658.

Submitted by Carol (Nashville, TN, USA)
(September 11, 1997)



Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

What are the retrograde motions of planets in the sky?

It depends on which type of motion you are asking about. If you take a birds-eye view from the top of the solar system all the planets orbit around the Sun in a counter-clockwise (or direct) direction....more

How do Astronauts Live in Space?

Almost everyone has a question or two about living in space. What do astronauts do in space? How do they do everyday things like eat, sleep and go to the bathroom? It's important to note that astronauts...more

How far is the Earth from the Sun, the Moon and all the other planets? How far are all of the planets from the Sun? Do you know of a software that tracks the planets in real-time?

There is a really neat internet program called Solar System Live that shows the position of all of the planets and the Sun for any given day. If you go to that page, you'll see an image similar to the...more

Is it really true that man never really walked on the Moon?

The picture of the American Flag (the one put there by the Apollo astronauts) is waving (or straight out) in the wind. How could that be possible if there is no atmosphere on the Moon? Was it some sort...more

How many planets orbit the sun?

I was wondering if there is a new planet? Are there planets (a tenth planet?) after Pluto belonging to our solar system? What are the names of the new planets discovered in the solar system? Are there...more

According to Stephen Hawking, any object with an energy which equals Plank's energy has to become a black hole.

If that is so, the energy released during the Big Bang must have created many such black holes. Therefore most of the Energy of the Big bang must have disappeared in that form. Then how did the Universe...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF