April 19, 2024

If satellite internet providers like SpaceX’s Starlink have their way, the skies are going to get a lot more crowded with their orbiting antennas in the coming years—so crowded that it’s worth exercising a bit more skepticism about how many will actually get off the ground.

Just last Sunday, British internet company OneWeb launched three dozen new satellites, completing a constellation of more than 600 such objects it has sent into low Earth orbit just above the planet’s atmosphere, powering the company’s global internet service. That figure is only a tenth of the total number of satellites OneWeb has asked regulators for permission to eventually launch. Meanwhile, SpaceX has asked regulators to OK nearly 30,000 satellites for Starlink, and Amazon has done the same for more than 7,700 satellites for its own planned satellite internet service, Project Kuiper.

We’ll see. As the chart above shows, the number of internet satellites that six of the most ambitious players in the business want to launch is more than five times the total number of objects currently in orbit around Earth, according to a tally by the U.N. The growth plans are so big that researchers and executives are increasingly concerned about everything from the satellites interfering with astronomers’ space observation to catastrophic collisions between orbiting space objects.