Environment Report

The latest Space Debris Environment Report issued by ESA's Space Debris Office is available here. The fourth edition has been released on 29/09/2020.

The AMOS 2019 keynote on the topic of the report by Dr. Francesca Letizia is available from these links: slides, transcript.

Environment Statistics

Last update: 2020-09-18 16:37:43

Space debris by the numbers

Number of rocket launches since the start of the space age in 1957
About 5970 (excluding failures)
Number of satellites these rocket launches have placed into Earth orbit
About 10130
Number of these still in space
About 5780
Number of these still functioning
About 3000
Number of debris objects regularly tracked by Space Surveillance Networks and maintained in their catalogue
About 27310
Estimated number of break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation
More than 550
Total mass of all space objects in Earth orbit
More than 9000 tonnes
Number of debris objects estimated by statistical models to be in orbit
34000 objects greater than 10 cm
900000 objects from greater than 1 cm to 10 cm
128 million objects from greater than 1 mm to 1 cm

Extended statistics

Here we would like to briefly address and summarise some facts on the space environment. This environment is understood to contain all man made objects, including fragments and elements thereof, which currently, or previously did, reside in an Earth bound orbit. Of specific interest is space debris, defined as all man made objects including fragments and elements thereof, in Earth orbit or reentering the atmosphere, that are non functional (IADC definition). Objects in the space environment can be categorised in two broad categories: The ones which can be traced back to a launch event and for which the nature can be identified, and the ones for which this is not (yet) possible. The later ones will be identified as Unidentified (UI), whereas the former can be further categorised in:

The taxonomy of objects in the space environment can be done based on type as before, but also via the orbital regime in which they reside. A catalogued object will refer to an object whose orbital elements are maintained for prolonged periods of time in a catalogue created by a space surveillance system. An asserted object will refer to an object which has not been reported by a space surveillance system but is known to exist in the space environment by design. Asserted objects include for example rocket bodies which perform a re-entry burn after inserting a payload into orbit prior to consistent detection or tracking by a space surveillance system. As such catalogued and asserted objects are not mutually exclusive and neither one is strictly contained within the other. Catalogued and asserted objects can be categorised in terms of their orbital elements for a given epoch. Orbital regimes used hereafter will be identified based on semi-major axis, eccentricity, inclination, perigee height and apogee height in the table below.

Orbital regime definitions
Orbital regime Description Limits
GEO Geostationary Orbit i < 25°, 35586 km < hp < 35986 km, 35586 km < ha < 35986 km
IGO Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit 37948 km < a < 46380 km, e < 0.25, 25° < i < 180°
EGO Extended Geostationary Orbit 37948 km < a < 46380 km, e < 0.25, i < 25°
NSO Navigation Satellites Orbit 50° < i < 70°, 18100 km < hp < 24300 km, 18100 km < ha < 24300 km
GTO GEO Transfer Orbit i < 90°, hp < 2000 km, 31570 km < ha < 40002 km
MEO Medium Earth Orbit 2000 km < hp < 31570 km, 2000 km < ha < 31570 km
GHO GEO-superGEO Crossing Orbits 31570 km < hp < 40002 km, ha > 40002 km
LEO Low Earth Orbit hp < 2000 km, ha < 2000 km
HAO High Altitude Earth Orbit hp > 40002 km, ha > 40002 km
MGO MEO-GEO Crossing Orbits 2000 km < hp < 31570 km, 31570 km < ha < 40002 km
HEO Highly Eccentric Earth Orbit hp < 31570 km, ha > 40002 km
LMO LEO-MEO Crossing Orbits hp < 2000 km, 2000 km < ha < 31570 km
UFO Undefined Orbit
ESO Escape Orbits

Fragmentation events are currently being categorised according to the assessed break-up cause:

Data presented hereafter will only relate to catalogued objects, and hence next to the increase of the space object population by human activity show the increase in availability of space surveillance networks. The abbreviation OCC (Orbit Control Capacity) will be used to identify Payload objects which can alter their orbit by means of applying demonstrated impulsive or continuous thrust. This thus include all conventional types of space propulsion but not technologies exploiting natural perturbations such as drag or solar sails. Rocket bodies, also described as Stages are all assumed to have OCC. Human spaceflight (HS) related missions are analysed separately, as they tend to skew results in terms of mass and count affected for the space environment and have generally a very high reliability. These mission include manned payloads as well as cargo payloads, but not the rocket bodies which bring them into orbit. An in-depth report will be available here soon.

Objects in Orbit

Objects in orbit count over time subdivided in orbit classes

Mass in orbit over time subdivided in orbit classes

Objects in orbit count over time subdivided in object classes

Mass in orbit over time subdivided in object classes

Reentered objects over time subdivided in object classes

Current number of orbiting objects per type and orbital regime
Orbital Regime PL PF PD PM RB RF RD RM UI Total
LEO 3946 6198 122 151 884 2585 130 679 261 14956
GEO 774 3 2 7 66 0 0 0 29 881
EGO 445 2 0 47 188 88 1 4 1659 2434
GTO 61 11 1 9 248 197 5 61 543 1136
NSO 270 0 0 1 90 0 0 2 11 374
MEO 65 4 5 53 21 25 1 3 253 430
LMO 86 151 7 46 229 783 23 221 1047 2593
MGO 71 64 1 2 178 2245 5 0 667 3233
HEO 30 10 0 1 44 124 0 1 951 1161
Other 37 0 0 5 3 0 0 0 74 119
Total 5785 6443 138 322 1951 6047 165 971 5495 27317
Current mass (kg) in orbit per object type and orbital regime
Orbital Regime PL PF PD PM RB RF RD RM UI Total
LEO 1615.8 1.5 1.0 6.6 1265.1 0.2 0.0 6.8 0.4 2897.4
GEO 2418.7 0.0 0.0 1.0 135.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 2555.0
EGO 697.7 0.0 0.0 4.9 349.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 0.0 1051.8
GTO 110.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 593.9 0.0 0.0 30.9 0.0 735.0
NSO 343.2 0.0 0.0 0.4 207.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 551.1
MEO 66.6 0.0 0.0 0.2 28.8 0.0 0.0 2.0 0.0 97.6
LMO 72.6 0.0 0.0 3.4 388.2 0.0 0.0 86.2 0.0 550.4
MGO 98.1 0.0 0.0 1.9 286.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 386.9
HEO 45.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 96.8 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.0 142.3
Other 56.2 0.0 0.0 0.1 5.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 61.6
Total 5524.1 1.5 1.0 18.5 3356.8 0.2 0.0 126.6 0.4 9029.2
Current cumulative cross sectional area (m²) in orbit per object type and orbital regime
Orbital Regime PL PF PD PM RB RF RD RM UI Total
LEO 17073.6 17.6 4.7 65.6 10270.1 0.0 0.0 267.6 2.7 27701.9
GEO 23641.0 0.0 0.0 8.4 1446.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 25096.1
EGO 10025.7 0.0 0.0 36.3 3654.6 0.0 0.0 1.2 0.0 13717.8
GTO 683.9 0.0 0.0 0.6 5787.7 0.0 0.0 917.8 0.0 7390.0
NSO 2113.1 0.0 0.0 0.6 1829.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 3942.9
MEO 661.0 0.0 0.0 5.7 267.6 0.0 0.0 15.2 0.0 949.5
LMO 607.6 0.0 0.0 14.5 4463.2 0.0 0.0 1504.5 0.0 6589.9
MGO 690.9 0.0 0.0 14.5 2387.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 3092.6
HEO 572.4 0.0 0.0 0.1 1000.9 0.0 0.0 27.4 0.0 1600.8
Other 440.7 0.0 0.0 0.1 39.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 480.3
Total 56509.9 17.6 4.7 146.4 31146.8 0.0 0.0 2733.7 2.7 90561.8

Fragmentations in Orbit

Number of fragmentation events over time subdivided by fragmentation cause

Share of fragmentation causes over time

Missions to LEO and GEO

Launch traffic to LEO over time

Launch traffic to GEO over time