The satellite industry is in the ascendant

The brightest "star" in the trillion space economy

  Technological innovation world wave

  ◎Reporter Liu Xia

  According to the latest report of the American Satellite Industry Association, between 2010 and 2020, the number of satellites orbiting the earth has surged from 958 to 3371.

But this increase is insignificant compared to future increases: by 2030, there may be as many as 100,000 satellites in orbit.

These satellites are gathered together to become the brightest "star" in the space economy-by 2040, the annual income of the global space economy is expected to reach 1 trillion US dollars.

  However, experts point out that with so many satellites, the problem of space junk caused by such a large number of satellites cannot be ignored.

  Exponential growth in the number of commercial satellites

  Data from the European Space Agency show that the number of satellite launches in 2020 has increased three times over the previous year, mainly because the number of satellites used for commercial purposes has increased exponentially.

  According to a report on the website of the US "Aviation and Space Technology Weekly" on August 24, from 2010 to 2020, the number of satellites orbiting the earth has surged from 958 to 3371, an increase of 252%, but it is inconsistent with the forecast for the next ten years. Compared with the increase, it is still insignificant.

  Steve Wolfe, co-founder and director of the Public Policy Think Tank "Beyond Earth" Institute, said: "By 2030, there may be as many as 100,000 satellites in orbit, which is shocking."

  The report pointed out that, mainly driven by the huge satellite network in low earth orbit, including SpaceX's "Starlink" program and OneWeb's global broadband system, existing satellite operators are promoting Traditionally, the communication services provided by geosynchronous orbiting spacecraft are diversified.

  For example, the 52-year-old Canadian Communications Satellite Company currently has 13 satellites operating in geosynchronous orbits. The company plans to expand its business and invest about US$5 billion to build a low-Earth orbit called "Lightspeed" Satellite network.

The company’s chief executive officer Dan Goldberg said: “The demand for broadband connections around the world is surging, and this demand basically doubles every three years.”

  Eurosat owns and operates more than 70 satellites. The company hired Boeing for its subsidiary, O3b Satellite Networks, to build a new satellite network in medium-Earth orbit (about 5000 kilometers).

This network, called O3b mPower, will be in orbit in 2023. It is a satellite network run entirely by software. Operators can allocate bandwidth according to market demand.

Ryan Reid, president of Boeing Commercial Satellite Systems, said: "There has never been a fully flexible software-defined satellite before, and the customer community is very interested in it."

  In addition, Boeing is also looking at the low-earth orbit satellite network market, and SpaceX, Yiwang, Amazon and other broadband satellite operators also hope to get a share.

  According to a report on the website of the Spanish newspaper "Nation" on August 22, the "Starlink" project plans to launch 12,000 satellites to provide Internet services covering the entire earth. So far, 1,740 satellites have been launched.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to launch 3,200 satellites for the same purpose.

  According to a report on the Tesla website on August 20, SpaceX recently submitted a document to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), disclosing new details about the upgraded version of its “Starlink” project, the “second-generation Starlink system”. , Including using its "Interplanetary Spacecraft 20" to send nearly 30,000 satellites into orbit.

  According to the company, the second-generation system is designed to complement the first-generation system currently being deployed by SpaceX. The second-generation Starlink satellites are heavier, larger, and can generate more power. They will be deployed in 9 locations. Altitude (from 340 kilometers to 614 kilometers above sea level).

  According to data released by the US non-profit organization Space Foundation on August 30, the annual revenue of the global space economy has increased by 4.4% in 2020 to reach 447 billion US dollars, with more countries participating than ever before.

Moreover, since the foundation released the space report in 2005, the global space economy has grown by 176%.

It is estimated that by 2040, the annual income of the global space economy will increase from the current more than 400 billion US dollars to 1 trillion US dollars.

  Space junk cannot be ignored

  Satellites go to the sky frequently, and the space junk caused by them should not be underestimated.

  Experts say that space junk can fly at a speed of 35,888 kilometers per hour, causing more and more damage and threats to the earth.

  The National Daily pointed out that the rubbish comes from scrap satellites or debris from collisions between satellites and other objects.

The European Space Agency estimates that there are about 7,200 satellites in Earth orbit, but only about 4,300 are in operation.

Another estimate based on statistical models indicates that the number of debris smaller than 10 cm in orbit is about 130 million, and the total mass of all these objects is about 9,400 tons.

  David Garradi, an expert at the Spanish Astronomical Society, pointed out that the main responsibility for the generation of space junk should be borne by private companies. "SpaceX currently has the most active satellites, followed by a network company."

  In this regard, the two companies have proposed to remove the equipment after it stops working.

Tesla's official website reported that SpaceX plans to further reduce space junk through the second-generation "Starlink" system-these satellites will be equipped with advanced propulsion capabilities to minimize the risk of collisions.

  Mikel Surreda, a researcher in aerospace engineering at the Technological University of Catalonia in Spain, pointed out that these companies currently comply with the rules, but the underlying problem lies in the relevant legislation.

He said: "When you have thousands of satellites instead of one satellite, the law should treat your satellite constellation as a whole. How to clean up these constellations may bring new risks and challenges, which deserves attention. ."

  According to a report by the BBC on December 29 last year, in order to minimize space junk, Japan's Sumitomo Forestry Company and Kyoto University announced that the two parties have reached a cooperation on the development of the world's first wooden artificial satellite, which is scheduled to be launched in 2023.

Professor Takao Doi from Kyoto University said that wood satellites will burn out when they return to the atmosphere, and will not produce harmful substances and are very environmentally friendly.