How Many Satellites Are Too Many?

You may have remembered my earlier post showing all of the items already in orbit around the Earth. Well, it appears Elon Musk believes we can handle billions of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). And while the current number of orbiting satellites is only in the thousands, Mr. Musk’s SpaceX has already placed 1,700 Starlink satellites in LEO, with plans for a total of 42,000 such satellites under the program.

Not everyone agrees with unchecked growth. Josef Aschbacher, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) director-general, stated, “You have one person owning half of the active satellites in the world. That’s quite amazing. De facto, he is making the rules.” I agree with the ESA about the need for some rules in this area given the rapid growth. And we may need to look a little deeper into that “billions” number. Mr. Musk has been known to overstate things.

Mr. Musk is part of the move fast and break things club. Yet that can lead to problems when the things breaking up are expensive satellites leaving debris in their wake. We may need to find a better way.

Source: October 24, 2021 launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 Starlink satellites to orbit from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. See the SpaceX press release, which contains this image.