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You are here News Science Dead satellites are filling space with trash. That could affect Earth’s magnetic field

Dead satellites are filling space with trash. That could affect Earth’s magnetic field

Space trashA dead spacecraft the size of a truck ignites with plasma and pulverizes into dust and litter as it rips through the ionosphere and atmosphere. This is what happens to internet service satellites during re-entry. When the full mega-constellation of satellites is deployed in the 2030s, companies will do this every hour because satellite internet requires thousands of satellites to constantly be replaced. And it could compromise our atmosphere or even our magnetosphere.

Space entrepreneurs are betting on disposable satellites as key to a new means of wealth. There are currently nearly 10,000 active satellites and companies are working as fast as possible to get tens of thousands more into orbit – for a projected 1m in the next three to four decades.

“We could get to 100,000 satellites in 10 to 15 years,” Dr Jonathan McDowell, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told me. Those satellites power hyper-connected internet services and may turn some billionaires into trillionaires – at the cost of shrouding the planet with toxic trash.

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