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  • Satellite Evolution

Space debris could be the undoing of the emerging low Earth orbit satellite market, says GlobalData

Over half of Earth’s active satellites have been launched in the last two years, according to GlobalData, as companies scramble to establish their own low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations. The leading data and analytics company notes that space debris regulation has not been updated fast enough for this onslaught, and the slow response could cause major disruption to space economy.

Francesca Gregory, Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “The rapid increase in commercial LEO constellations could see billionaires and nation states render space unsafe and inoperable. The short lifespan of LEO satellites could create a minefield of smaller, un-trackable fragments orbiting at devastating speeds. A cascade of collisions between these fragments and satellites is a major blind spot in international space law, and the fallout from this oversight could see space economy aspirations fall flat.”

The International Space Station’s (ISS) near miss with a space debris cloud illustrates the growing problem of space debris and questions the long-term viability of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations. While it is being framed as a geopolitical issue, we should not hide from the fact that the sheer number of satellites is one of the main risks of collision.

Gregory continues: “SpaceX’s Starlink constellation totals over 1600* units, representing 43 percent of the total LEO satellites. As the company and its competitors forge plans to increase their constellations by thousands, geopolitical tensions are inciting a disturbingly weak regulatory response. Although the refinement of space debris tracking technology offers some hope, many smaller fragments remain un-trackable. Similarly, space debris removal technologies are in their infancy. The risk of collision in the short term, and space debris further down the line, has the potential to turn the dream of satellite internet into a nightmare.”


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