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Former NASA chief: More than 3,000 satellites, working and non-working, in orbit

Artist onterpretation of GPS satellite
Artist onterpretation of GPS satellite
Image courtesy of NASA

Some work, some don’t. Some weight more than a school bus, others just a few pounds. They’re used for various functions, but a majority are used for communications. There’s certainly a lot of variety among satellites, but one thing is certain: There are a bunch orbiting Earth, according to a report today from the Associated Press.

In conjunction with former NASA chief scientist for orbital debris Nicholas Johnson, the AP broke down all the important information about satellites, especially in the wake of their use in finding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

According to the report, nearly 4,000 satellites orbit around the early currently, with roughly 1,1000 of them active.

A majority of the satellites in Earth’s orbit, about 60 percent, perform communication functions, which hover about 22,000 miles above the planet’s surface.

For scale, GPS satellites orbit about 12,400 miles up and the International Space Station is at about 260 miles high.

The ones that are still active have been instrumental in helping to find the wreckage of MA370, which authorities this week concluded crashed in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean.

However, the estimated remaining 2,600 satellites still orbiting the Earth that no longer function could pose a risk of collisions with active ones –– in a Gravity like fashion –– and could lead to a chain reaction.

The report offers that measures are taking to avoid the buildup of space junk, including being put into an orbit that eventually has them falling to Earth and burning up.

However, earlier this month scientists at the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics proposed using lasers to blast the space trash out of the sky to avoid future catastrophes.

You can read that full Examiner report by clicking here.