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Satellite Deployment and Orbital Risks Increase Amid Growing Space Congestion
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Satellite Deployment and Orbital Risks Increase Amid Growing Space Congestion
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) May 01, 2024

Slingshot Aerospace, Inc., a leader in AI-powered solutions for satellite tracking, space traffic coordination, and space modeling and simulation, has released its first State of Satellite Deployments and Orbital Operations report. The report draws on data from the Slingshot Seradata satellite and launch database and is the result of analyses by Slingshot Seradata analysts and the Slingshot Aerospace science team.

"The industry has been saying space is becoming more congested for years, but now reality is setting in and the pressure is on to address the increasing risk in orbit," said Melissa Quinn, General Manager, Slingshot Aerospace Ltd. "We need to come together as an industry to make meaningful progress to coordinate the safe and sustainable use of space."

Key trends identified in the report include:

+ Spacecraft in orbit: As of December 31, 2023, there are 12,597 spacecraft, including 3,356 inactive satellites.

+ Orbital launches: 223 orbital launches occurred in 2023, marking a 19.9% increase from 2022.

+ Satellites deployed: 2,877 satellites were deployed in 2023, a 14.6% increase from 2022.

+ Growth in commercial satellites: Commercial satellites, which make up 89% of all satellites, grew by 18.4% in 2022.

+ Communication satellites: In 2023, 2,285 communication satellites were deployed, accounting for 79% of all satellite deployments.

+ Space insurance market losses: The space industry paid out $995 million in total losses in 2023, against $557 million in collected premiums, resulting in a net loss of $438 million.

"You often see the number of active satellites being reported, however, we need to also look at the 3,356 inactive satellites because they are taking up valuable space," said Quinn. "The confluence of launch programs that carry satellites to space, technological advancements that reduce the cost of developing and launching satellites, and the anticipated growth of space activity, paint a vivid picture of the speed at which we can get satellites to space. However, it's equally important that we monitor the pace at which they're removed from operational orbits at the end-of-life."

SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches continue to support the industry's growth, contributing to a 19.9% increase in orbital launches and a 14.6% increase in satellite deployments in 2023. Communication satellites, largely from constellations like Starlink, dominated the deployments, shaping the industry's landscape.

Record space insurance market losses totaled $995 million in 2023, driven by major claims such as the $445 million for Viasat-3 Americas and the $348 million for Inmarsat's 6-F2 satellite due to a battery failure. In response, insurers are increasing premiums significantly.

End-of-life satellite disposal: 219 satellites became inactive in 2023; 508 GEO satellites are in a graveyard orbit, with 25 added in 2023.

"A graveyard orbit is where defunct GEO satellites are sustainably 'buried,'" said Quinn. "Of the 29 GEO satellites that were retired in 2023, 86% were moved to a graveyard orbit, which underscores the industry's efforts towards sustainable practices. However, there are still thousands of inactive satellites hanging out in LEO. With LEO becoming more crowded than ever, there is a real risk to satellites that provide valuable services including internet, weather forecasting, and land-use tracking. This presents a critical need to work together in order to protect everyday life on Earth."

The data also shows a significant decrease in the average distance between GEO satellites, indicating increasing congestion.

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