Nearly 7,000 satellites orbit the Earth, serving vital functions such as communication, navigation, and scientific research.
In 2022 alone, more than 150 launches took place, sending new instruments into space, with many more expected over the next decade.
But who owns these objects? In this graphic, Visual Capitalist’s Bruno Venditti and Miranda Smith utilize data from the Union of Concerned Scientists to highlight the leaders in satellite technology.
SpaceX’s Dominance in Space
SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, is unquestionably the industry leader, currently operating the largest fleet of satellites in orbit–about 50% of the global total.
The company has already completed 62 missions this year, surpassing any other company or nation, and operates thousands of internet-beaming Starlink spacecraft that provide global internet connectivity.
Starlink customers receive a small satellite dish that self-orients itself to align with Starlink’s low-Earth-orbit satellites.
In second place is a lesser-known company, British OneWeb Satellites. The company, headquartered in London, counts the UK government among its investors and provides high-speed internet services to governments, businesses, and communities.
Like many other satellite operators, OneWeb relies on SpaceX to launch its satellites.
Despite Starlink’s dominance in the industry, the company is set to face intense competition in the coming years. Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans to deploy 3,236 satellites by 2029 to compete with SpaceX’s network. The first of the fleet could launch as early as 2024.
The Rise of China’s Space Program
After the top private companies, governments also own a significant portion of satellites orbiting the Earth. The U.S. remains the leader in total satellites, when adding those owned by both companies and government agencies together.
American expenditures on space programs reached $62 billion in 2022, five times more than the second one, China.
China, however, has sped up its space program over the last 20 years and currently has the highest number of satellites in orbit belonging directly to government agencies. Most of these are used for Earth observation, communications, defense, and technology development.
Satellite Demand to Rise Over the Decade
Despite the internet being taken for granted in major metropolitan areas and developed countries, one out of every three people worldwide has never used the web.
Furthermore, the increasing demand for data and the emergence of new, more cost-effective satellite technologies are expected to present significant opportunities for private space companies.
In this context, satellite demand is projected to quadruple over the next decade.