Sputnik 1 was the first artificial satellite launched by the erstwhile Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Since then, more than 8000 satellites have been launched into space in the following decades. Currently, there are over 2,000 satellites that are circling around the Earth. And many more are planned, which would soon be joining them in space. These are used for communications, weather monitoring, space observation, mapping and military purposes. Growing competition and reduced costs are the primary reasons why recent years have seen an increase in the number of satellites being launched. Today, even less developed countries can access satellite technology, even in the absence of significant and active domestic space programs. Let’s examine the countries with maximum satellites.
The Front-Runners in Satellite Technology
An analysis of the satellite data has been carried out by the nonprofit science advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Its Satellite Database shows that the United States has the maximum number of satellites orbiting around the Earth. As of March 2019, the USA has 883 registered satellites in space. The country has more number of satellites than the combined sum of the other countries on the list. The USA has launched many satellites for the purpose of navigation, communications, missile detection, surveillance, weather reports, and such others. China is second on the list with a total count of 296 active satellites in space. Russia takes the third spot, with as many as 150 in the Earth’s orbit.
Japan (79), United Kingdom (60), India (57), Canada (37), Germany (33), Luxembourg (33), and Spain (19) are other countries on the list of top 10 countries with maximum satellites. There are a total of 257 satellites in the rest of the world. Most of these satellites are used for commercial purposes (902), followed by government use (407), military use (310), mixed-use (275), and civil use (168).
Surprisingly, Luxembourg has more active satellites in operation than the big European countries like Italy, Spain etc. Luxembourg recently launched the LSA (Luxembourg Space Agency) which utilizes industry partners’ launch capabilities. This also motivates entrepreneurs to realize their commercial space goals.
Growing Presence of Private Sector
The boost to the satellite industry owes its development to ambitious private endeavors. These projects include smartly marketing the experience of travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere to tourists, and space mining operations, among others.
Business opportunities are also growing. Today, a number of private organizations are providing satellite launch capabilities to national governments as well as private clients. This, in turn, has helped less developed nations in accessing the satellite technology. Such countries may not be able to afford elaborate space programs of their own.
The private sector is steadily making inroads into the space technology. Hence, the satellites that are owned by private companies are way more in number than those owned by the military.
Governance in the Satellite Sector
A few countries still consider space to be useful mostly for military purposes. However, international collaborations like the International Space Station aim at enhancing knowledge about the universe. This sentiment of cooperation has brought forward a new crop of entrepreneurs, who see a lot of potential in the space sector.
The UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) has provided the best practice guidelines to ensure that outer space activities stay sustainable. Policymakers, governments, and firms have taken up the task to improve governance in space. This would help the space industry in the long-term in reaching its full potential.
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