ESA have released information on the incredible content of the skies above our heads. In their press release they outline what exactly is littering orbital space around the Earth.
The image here shows the view from above the North Pole of all low Earth orbit objects as of January 2008. To observe the Earth, satellites must be in low orbits. At higher latitudes, the density of such objects increases.
Between the launch of Sputnik on 4 October 1957 and 1 January 2008, approximately 4600 launches have placed some 6000 satellites into orbit, of which only 400 lie beyond near orbits or on interplanetary trajectories. Today, it is estimated that only 800 satellites are operational. About 50 percent of all trackable space debris are due to in-orbit explosion or collision events.
We are adding around 200 objects a year into this picture!
The image below, also from the ESA press release, shows all objects, including the geostationary ring of satellites that lie further away from the Earth’s surface.