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Satellite Database Update: Over 3,300 Active Satellites Orbiting Earth

An updated version of the UCS Satellite Database, which includes launches through December 31, 2020, is now available on the UCS website. This update includes adding 651 satellites to the database and removing 66 for a total of 3,372 active satellites. Commercial satellites continue to have a larger share of space; currently 78% of US satellites are commercially owned. With this version of the database, Starlink has more than 900 satellites in orbit, or 26% of the operational satellite population.

Quite a tough pace for Teri Grimwood, our brave Database researcher. In addition to keeping track of 28 pieces of data for each of these satellites, Teri also keeps track of what they see as important and interesting trends. Here are some of them:

Starlink update

In the five months between August and the end of December 2020, SpaceX completed seven more launches and added about 400 satellites to the Starlink constellation, bringing the total to over 900 at that point. The company plans to continue launches every two to three weeks until it reaches the 1,440 level by completing the initial network. At this point, Starlink can serve users in high latitudes. Over the summer, the company underwent private beta testing in the Pacific Northwest and now invites interested parties to participate in the service’s public beta testing in Canada, the northern United States and the United Kingdom. SpaceX called the test “Beta Better Than Nothing” and it focuses on rural and remote areas.

As the starlink constellation grows, so do concerns about its effects on the night sky. The brightness of the Starlink satellites has been a problem for astronomers. The sun reflected off the hulls of the satellites makes them optically bright especially shortly after launch (and 60 satellites are launched at a time). This can cause the glare of the Starlink spacecraft to interfere with astronomical observations, causing it to appear as bright, moving paths in the night sky.

Starlink is trying to fix the problem. In January 2020, it broadcast a satellite painted black to reduce the reflection from the sun, but interfered with managing the satellite’s temperature. As of its launch on August 7, 2020, Starlink began to wear visors to its satellites to block the sun. Visors appear to be effective in making satellites invisible to the naked eye, but they do not address all the problems astronomers have. Another new approach is to rotate the satellites so that the thin sides of the solar panels are facing the earth during periods when they would otherwise be most reflective and limit glare.

However, it is clear that a little more attention will be paid to resolving the problems that Starlink and other mega constellations present to astronomers.

Astronomical associations work with satellite operators and space lawyers to prepare proposals for international policy on satellite constellations.

OneWeb constellation update

Following our post in May, the One Web story continues to evolve. In July 2020, OneWeb was acquired by a partnership between the British government and Bharti Global, and they jointly bid to buy the bankrupt mega constellation startup and return it to operations.

The UK Foreign Secretary for Commerce, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the main reasons the government invested in the company were commercial and strategic: “providing broadband to people in remote areas” and also airplanes and boats. There has also been controversy about the possibility of the UK using OneWeb as a global navigation system. But there is a strong feeling in the UK space industry that it is not financially or practically feasible to reuse OneWeb as a navigation system, and since the UK’s decision to leave the European Union raised questions about safe access to the EU’s Galileo army, local Has interest in exploring alternatives. – amplifying encrypted signals. In September, a spokesperson said Britain would not participate in the EU’s Galileo program and that the government is leaning towards an “independent space program”.

OneWeb, which was launched in December 2020, added 36 more satellites to the constellation.

Africa in satellite news

New countries join the space travel club every year. (See the slider on the Database home page for a snapshot.) About 90 countries currently own or own satellites in space. While some countries in Africa have been hosting space activities, especially other countries, since their launch years, and Africans have been using satellite services for decades, an increasing number of African countries are developing and purchasing their own satellites. Since late 2019, three African countries have their own satellites for the first time, and they are all involved in ground observation applications.

In November 2019, Sudan’s first satellite, the Sudan Remote Sensing Satellite (SRSS) -1, was taken into space as a passenger at a larger Chinese launch. The satellite was developed and built in China for the Sudanese and will perform civil and military functions such as mapping, resource management, and security surveillance. Sudan hired several transponders on an Arabsat satellite for communication purposes.

That same month, RwaSat-1, Rwanda’s first satellite, was deployed from the International Space Station. Designed and built by a team of Rwandan engineers with the help of the University of Tokyo, the cubesat will assist the Rwandan government with meteorology and monitor water resources, natural disasters and agriculture.

In December 2019, Ethiopia’s first satellite was a passenger on the Ethiopian Remote Sensing Satellite (ETRSS-1), the Chinese launch pad. Most of the production costs were borne by China and designed by both Chinese and Ethiopian engineers. ETRSS-1 will collect data for agriculture, mining and environmental protection.

In December 2020, a second satellite, ET-SMART-RSS, was launched “in order to strengthen the cooperation between ESSTI and SMART, which set out to provide earth observation services to China and African countries and to do business jointly.” In Africa. “The Ethiopian Institute of Space Science and Technology (ESSTI) has worked with Beijing Intelligent Satellite Technology (SMART) company to develop about 10 kg of satellites. ESSTI will receive data directly via the ground station in Addis Ababa.

All three countries have prospects to establish national space industries.

The featured image on this blog is courtesy of NASA.

Posted in: Space and Satellites Tags: active satellites, satellite database, satellites

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