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

Well, that depends on how you define satellite! If you take the broad definition of the word satellite, a body that orbits a body of larger size, then the answer is millions! This definition of a satellite includes actual spacecraft, and any man-mad e debris that has been generated by the past 30 years of space exploration.

Our space environment is only getting more and more cluttered. People have called this clutter "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!

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 11, 1997 lists 2,271 satellites currently in orbit (2,386 more satellites have already fallen into decayed orbits where they disentegrated while falling through the Earth's atmosphere). Russia has the most satellites currently in orbit, with 1,324 satellites, fol lowed by the U.S. with 658.

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

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