As of January 1st 2021 there were 6,542 satellites orbiting around the planet, of these 3,372 (slightly more than 50%) are active and operational. Their number is growing rapidly, to the point that by April 2021 the record shows 7,389 satellites in orbit, that’s a 20% increase in 4 months. The first satellite was the Sputnik, launched in October 1957: since then 11,138 satellites have been launched and, as just mentioned, 7,389 are still up there (the others fell down and burned during the re-entry).
In these 64 years we have learnt to make satellites (and their launch) more effective (and way way cheaper). The Sputnik was just emitting a beep (a radio signal) an even though at that time it made quite an impression, it was useless.
Today satellites are providing a telecommunication network up in the sky (1,832), Earth observation (906), research and tech feasibility (350), navigation and positioning (150), space science (104), Earth science (20)…
These figures do not include military satellites, 320 of which are known to exit (but there are probably several others).
Now an Australian start up, Spiral Blue, is looking at sending computers in orbit (way over the clouds for sure) to process Earth observation data picked up by satellites directly in the sky. They have successfully launched on July 1st Space Edge Zero (SEZ) computers using Virgin Launcher One (watch the clip).
Their orbiting computers will provide on-space computing. Today’s data harvested by Earth observation satellites are beamed down to receiving stations on Earth and processed to be distributed to end users. Spiral Blue plans to have processing taking place in the space and will beam down to users only information that is relevant to them. They are planning to process some 5 million images captured by Earth Observation Satellites in the second part of this year to test the system.