🛰 We Can’t Stop Launching Stuff Into Space

Several factors, including the significant risk of an orbital skirmish, are driving an increase in space activity.
April 26, 2024
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rocket launching infront of SpaceX warehouse

The world launched 2,664 objects into space in 2023, an increase of 7.5% from the prior year, per Our World In Data.

Annual number of objects launched into space increasing

The increase in space activity results from several factors:

  • Lower launch costs: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket costs $1,200/lb of payload compared to $30,000/lb of payload for NASA’s space shuttles, which were retired in 2011, when you adjust for inflation, per NBC News.
  • Smaller and cheaper satellites: Satellites have shrunk from the size of a garbage truck, costing as much as $400 million, to the size of a microwave or even a loaf of bread, and as little as a few million dollars.
  • Growth of private space providers: There are considerably more private commercial launch providers, such as SpaceX, Blue Origin, Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, than twenty years ago when government entities dominated space.
  • More commercial demand: The number of commercial space launches spiked by nearly 50% in 2023, from 81 launches in 2022 to 120 last year, per The Space Report. For example, Project Kuiper is Amazon’s initiative to increase global broadband through a constellation of 3,236 low-orbit satellites.

In addition, as geopolitical tensions increase between major powers like the U.S., Russia, and China, look for the U.S. to continue ramping up the number of objects we send to space to prepare for orbital skirmishes.

One consequence of the increase in space activity is overcrowding. There are more than 9,494 active satellites in various Earth orbits, with more than 3,000 in Low-Earth orbit. There are thousands of close calls every day in orbit, and the more stuff we launch into space, the more likely a catastrophic in-orbit collision will occur.

It's a good thing I watched all those Star Wars movies.

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