There have been many countries that have aspired to and achieved spaceflight, the ever-changing nature of human politics and the advance of other nations towards this goal has made it much more difficult to keep track of which countries have launched satellites, as well as others who may have launched satellites such as private businesses and enterprises.
There are a surprising number of nations who have the technology to launch satellites, and while not all of them have done so, the number of satellites in space around the Earth continually grows along with the junk and debris left behind and defunct satellites that are left in stasis above us forever.
But what are satellites?
Many people would say that they are devices designed to receive and relay information allowing us to transmit information around the world quickly and effectively.
However, that isn’t strictly true!
These are examples of artificial satellites, which are objects, (usually man-made) that are intentionally placed into orbit around a body such as the Earth.
However there are also natural satellites, and the best example of these are moons, such as our own Moon or the moons which orbit various other planets in our solar system and no doubt throughout the universe.
So satellites are really objects which orbit larger celestial bodies.
In this guide, however, we’re going to focus on artificial satellites and look at which countries have managed to successfully launch them, as well as some other interesting facts about these amazing machines.
Why Do We Need Satellites?
While some people may deny this, the Earth is round, a solid sphere, and humanity is spread all over it, from top to bottom.
This can make transmitting signals essential to communication from one side to the other incredibly difficult, and nigh impossible due to the fact that there is a whole dense mass of… planets in the way.
Satellites can bounce these signals much more efficiently than any other method of communication, and it's this that satellites are primarily used for, however, there are other uses such as to host high-powered telescopes used to study distant areas of the universe and other interesting phenomena of scientific interest.
Satellites are incredibly important and without them much of our technology would not work, as rapid communication lies at the heart of almost all human technology today.
Which Country Has The Most Advanced Satellites?
This has been a point of contention throughout history, as the fierce space race between the Soviet Union and the United States of America demonstrates.
The ‘race to space’ of the mid 20th century was fought intensely between these two superpowers, and many of the advancements to human spaceflight and technology were actually achieved by the Soviet Union first.
However today the Soviet Union is defunct and disbanded, and while there are many advanced spacefaring nations such as Russia and the USA, there are many new players such as China, India, and other emerging powers who are keen to put their stamp on humanity’s race to further scientific achievement.
There are many nations on the cutting edge of satellite technology today, and while the USA has the most satellites with 1897, China is growing fast with 412, while Russia has 176, and the technology used in them is continually being developed and improved.
Some may argue that the USA has the most advanced technology and that most of the significant advancements in the last 50 years have been made by NASA, China and Russia invest heavily in their own satellites and space-faring technology, and the race for space appears to be working up through the gears once again, especially as new goals such as Mars exploration have been met and exceeded.
Who Launched The First Satellite?
The first satellite ever launched was Sputnik-1 which was launched by the Soviet Union on the 4th October 1957.
This breakthrough was the first blow in the space race between the USA and the Soviet Union and marked the beginning of a decades-long competition between the two superpowers for faster and more impressive advancements in space exploration and spacefaring technology.
Sputnik-1 orbited for 3 weeks before it ran out of power and eventually fell back into the atmosphere of the Earth.
NASA was actually created in response to the unexpected success of the Soviets and their new technological prowess and was another key element of the larger cold war.
How Many Satellites Have Been Launched?
The number of satellites launched since the beginning of the space age stands at 11139 satellites, however, only some 7389 satellites remain in space orbiting us, as the rest have either been burnt up during re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere or have broken up into debris such as China’s recent Long March rocket which recently landed in the Indian Ocean.
As of 2021, it is believed that there are some 3372 satellites functioning, and some 3000 or more satellites inactive and either derelict in space or inoperable due to various technical reasons.
This indicates the scale of the space junk issue which is slowly building up, and indicates how reliant we are on satellites and their communications.
What Is A Natural Satellite?
A natural satellite is an object orbiting a planetary body, one that is there naturally and hasn’t been placed there by man or any other artificial means.
Moons are the best example of natural satellites and many planets have moons of varying sizes.
Earth only has one natural satellite, the Moon, but some planets have multiple natural satellites and moons, some of which are of considerable size and scientific interest.
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