Illustration of a space debris field, as depicted in the film “Space Junk 3D.” Image credit: Space Junk 3D, LLC
The final frontier may need a little taming.
About 2,000 operational satellites currently zoom around Earth, studying our planet’s weather, beaming down telecommunications data and performing a variety of other tasks. But that number has been rising steadily as the costs of building and launching spacecraft fall, and it’s about to make some big leaps.
For example, SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb all plan to set up internet-satellite megaconstellations in the near future. This past May, SpaceX launched to low-Earth orbit the first 60 members of its Starlink network, which could eventually feature up to 12,000 satellites.
But not all of the coming Earth-circling spacecraft will be operated by aerospace professionals working for deep-pocketed companies or government agencies. A fair number will be run by neophytes who just a few short years ago couldn’t have dreamed of being part of the space scene.
Indeed, that’s already happening, because “even, frankly, elementary schools can afford to put up these little experimental satellites,” Walter Scott, chief technology officer of Maxar Technologies, told Space.com.
This opening of space is very much a good thing, ...