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Satellites Orbiting Earth: Our Celestial Infrastructure

Satellites Orbiting Earth: Our Celestial Infrastructure

Today, satellites play an integral role in many aspects of daily life. Whether you are getting directions to a new restaurant, checking the weather forecast, or catching up on your favorite TV show, satellites make it possible.

Learn more about the number of satellites orbiting earth, the wide range of services they provide, and some of the most famous ones in orbit today!

How Many Satellites Orbit Earth?


The very first satellite was launched by Russia on October 4, 1957. The satellite, Sputnik 1, broadcast radio pulses and spent three months in orbit before burning up on reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Since then, thousands of satellites and other man-made objects have been launched into Earth’s orbit.

The United States Space Surveillance Network (SSN) currently tracks more than 8,000 man-made objects in orbit. Of that number, 1,305 are operational satellites while the rest are non-functioning satellites and debris. The majority of those satellites were launched by the United States, though Russian and China also have a large number of satellites currently in orbit.

Around half of all satellites, including many Earth observation satellites, orbit 180-2,000 kilometers above the surface in a region known as low Earth orbit. Most global positioning satellites (GPS) used in navigation exist in medium Earth orbit, between 2,000-35,780 kilometers above the surface. Weather and communications satellites like the GEOS-12 or the HughesNet EchoStar XVII, meanwhile, have a high-Earth orbit of 35,780 kilometers or greater.

Famous Satellites

Of the thousands of satellites currently orbiting the Earth, a few have managed to become household names. Here are some of the most notable satellites launched into space.

  • hughesnet satellite internet


  • hughesnet satellite internet


  • hughesnet satellite internet



International Space Station

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A satellite that houses a rotating international crew of six astronauts, the International Space Station (ISS) serves many purposes. The largest man-made satellite ever constructed, the ISS operates in low Earth orbit as a microgravity laboratory for experiments in Earth, space, biological, and physical sciences. The station has been continuously occupied since 2000 and has served as a catalyst for the commercial space industry.

Plus, thanks to the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) project, you can view live satellite images of the planet as seen from four commercial high-definition cameras attached to the ISS during its 90-minute orbit of Earth.

Chandra X-ray Observatory

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Another of NASA’s Great Observatories, the Chandra X-ray Observatory was launched on July 23, 1999. Chandra enables astronomers to obtain and study X-ray images of extremely turbulent regions of space where violent reactions produce extreme temperatures. These images help to provide scientists with a better understanding of the overall structure and inner workings of the universe. Chandra’s observations are also used to help answer questions concerning the universe’s origin and evolution.

The satellite was originally known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility but the name was changed in honor of Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Hubble Space Telescope

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Since its launch on April 24, 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided some of the most stunning and informative views of our universe. Named for astronomer Edwin Hubble, the telescope’s more than 1.2 million observations in the visible light, near ultraviolet, and near infrared spectra have led to numerous breakthroughs in astrophysics.

Through its breathtaking images, the telescope has also served as an important public relations tool for NASA and the field of astronomy in general, becoming arguably the most well-known of Earth’s satellites. See some of the astonishing images of distant stars and galaxies taken by the Hubble Space Telescope here.


Satellites Keep the World Spinning

From telecommunications to scientific exploration, the fleet of satellites orbiting Earth forms a vital network that we rely on every day. As the world grows more connected and our efforts in space exploration expand, satellites will continue to play an essential role.