Who owns all the satellites overhead?
Thousands of satellites orbit in the sky above your head. You use them every day in a myriad of ways, from the internet that allows you to read this, to the weather report that tells you how to dress today, to the GPS in your car that guides you across town. More than 4,500 satellites currently orbit Earth, with more being launched all the time. Astronomers are worried about what all these satellites will mean for their ability to study the night sky. And the satellites and debris from collisions pose a hazard to astronauts in space. But who is responsible? Who owns these thousands of satellites?
A research team from DEWESoft has created a graphic to help the public get a better grasp on who is responsible for the thousands of satellites in space. The team analyzed data collected by the Union of Concerned Scientists Satellite Database, the geographic information supplier ESRI and the Space Foundation. With this data, they created a list of the 50 owners of the most satellites orbiting Earth.
Approximately 50% of the satellites in space are communications satellites. DEWESoft’s graphic was accurate as of January 2022, but in the meantime, satellites continue to pile up. In early February, Space X launched an additional 49 Starlink satellites.
Molly Underwood, who participated in the DEWESoft project, told EarthSky that their project:
… visualizes who owns all of the satellites orbiting Earth. We thought it was particularly interesting how quickly SpaceX has grown since Starlink.
Number of satellites by company and country
As you can see from the graphic, SpaceX is the big winner, with 1,655 satellites and growing. In fact, it won’t be long before SpaceX owns more satellites than every other company and country combined. NASA is not even in the top 10 on the list. The graphic also allows you to see the types of satellites that orbit Earth, from communications to science to GPS to observational.
SpaceX is growing
SpaceX currently owns 1/3 of the satellites in orbit around Earth. With a plan to send about 1,000 Starlink satellites into space every year, they will continue their domination. They plan to eventually have 12,000 Starlink satellites, with the stated goal of delivering internet to people everywhere on the globe.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, is an American company. The United States has the most satellites orbiting Earth, with approximately 2,804. That includes satellites that are governmental and those from entities that operate in the U.S. DEWESoft said:
We found that 75 different countries have at least one satellite orbiting Earth.
The complete graphic of satellite ownership is below.
Bottom line: More than 4,000 satellites orbit Earth, and that number will grow by leaps and bounds in just a few years. Who owns all those satellites orbiting Earth?