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A High Level Look at Satellites

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A High Level Look at Satellites

A High Level Look at Satellites

View the full-size version of the first visualization to see in full detail.

Satellites rarely get much attention, but they’re the hubs that keep our modern world connected. Just how many satellites are orbiting around Earth? Who’s launching them? And, what exactly are they doing up there anyway? These are good questions. Let’s dig in.

Today’s visualization comes to us from Carey Spies, and while it is based on older data, it provides a useful breakdown of the types of satellites that orbit the Earth.

There are now nearly 1,500 satellites in orbit in 2017, and if SpaceX’s plans for a 4,425-satellite communications network come to fruition, our planet’s exosphere will become even more crowded.

What do satellites actually do?

Satellites are launched into space for a number of reasons.

They do everything from military reconnaissance to keeping our GPS systems working properly. The truly global scope of telecommunications wouldn’t be possible without our expansive network of orbiting satellites. For example, O3b Networks’ 12 satellites provide broadband internet service to emerging markets.

Types of Satellites

Who’s launching satellites?

The United States, with nearly 600 operating satellites, has clearly won the space race in this sense. That said, everyone from Azerbaijan to Vietnam now has equipment in orbit, and the list keeps growing.

The change over time, seen in this interactive map, shows that now practically everyone is in the game:

Launching rockets used to be the sole domain of nations, but the privatization of spaceflight has dramatically increased the number of commercial satellites in orbit. Iridium Communications, for example, has a constellation of 70+ operational satellites.

Anxiety in the Exosphere

Operating satellites are only one part of the equation. Sputnik I was launched into space nearly 60 years ago, and as one might guess, a lot of obsolete and dead equipment has built up over that time. The United States Space Surveillance Network estimates that there are 21,000 objects larger than 10cm orbiting the Earth. An increase in “space junk” could have major implications, as even tiny objects can cause severe damage to equipment.

We must cooperate now to guarantee economically vital spaceflight.

– Brigitte Zypries, German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy

Another looming issue is the potential weaponization of space. Until now, nations have operated under the “gentlemen’s agreement” that nothing launched into space should be weaponized, but the U.S., China, and Russia have all been accused of taking steps towards putting destructive objects into orbit. Beyond the obvious implications of conflict in space, damaged satellites would also exacerbate the aforementioned “space junk” problem.

What’s on the Horizon

While companies like SpaceX are looking for ways to reduce the overall cost of launching rockets into space, other innovations may also make it easier than ever to put structures into orbit. The Archinaut Program – which received $20 million in funding from NASA – is looking at ways to manufacture and assemble structures in space.

One thing is for certain; space is about to get a whole lot more crowded.

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Mapped: The World’s Top 50 Science and Technology Hubs

This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology hubs based on the Global Innovation Index 2023 data.

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This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology clusters, based on data from the Global Innovation Index 2023.

The World’s Top 50 Science and Technology Hubs

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

In 2023, the world experienced another wave of science and technology (S&T) innovation, from the introduction of the first over-the-counter birth control pill in the U.S. to the stunning growth of ChatGPT and artificial intelligence.

This map explores the world’s top 50 science and technology hubs leading these innovations based on data from the Global Innovation Index 2023. Hubs were ranked by their combined share of international patent applications and scientific publications.

East Asia Dominance in S&T

The world’s five most significant science and technology hubs are in East Asia.

The top-ranked Tokyo-Yokohama cluster made up just over 10% of all patent applications between 2018-2022.

ClusterCountry/EconomyPatent ApplicationsScientific Publications
Tokyo-Yokohama🇯🇵 Japan127,418115,020
Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou🇨🇳/🇭🇰 China/Hong Kong113,482153,180
Seoul🇰🇷 South Korea63,447133,604
Beijing🇨🇳 China38,067279,485
Shanghai-Suzhou🇨🇳 China32,924162,635
San Jose-San Francisco🇺🇸 U.S.47,26958,575
Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto🇯🇵 Japan38,41351,948
Boston-Cambridge🇺🇸 U.S.18,18476,378
San Diego🇺🇸 U.S.23,26120,928
New York City🇺🇸 U.S.13,83874,849
Nanjing🇨🇳 China7,143113,488
Paris🇫🇷 France15,17661,692
Wuhan🇨🇳 China6,25089,756
Hangzhou🇨🇳 China10,75562,924
Nagoya🇯🇵 Japan17,73616,091
Los Angeles,🇺🇸 U.S.11,55644,058
Washington, DC–Baltimore🇺🇸 U.S.5,52576,039
Daejeon🇰🇷 South Korea12,27525,552
Xi'an🇨🇳 China1,78686,937
London🇬🇧 Great Britain5,98159,068
Seattle🇺🇸 U.S.11,47220,322
Munich🇩🇪 Germany10,24824,239
Qingdao🇨🇳 China7,28639,745
Chengdu🇨🇳 China2,04667,334
Cologne🇩🇪 Germany7,46634,286
Amsterdam–Rotterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands4,23052,864
Taipei–Hsinchu🇹🇼 Taiwan3,90752,752
Houston🇺🇸 U.S.8,47524,636
Stuttgart🇩🇪 Germany9,34214,874
Tel Aviv–Jerusalem🇮🇱 Israel7,26824,219
Moscow🇷🇺 Russia2,03655,086
Chicago🇺🇸 U.S.5,76332,343
Singapore🇸🇬/🇲🇾 Singapore/Malaysia4,86136,803
Tehran🇮🇷 Iran24963,113
Philadelphia🇺🇸 U.S.5,39032,309
Tianjin🇨🇳 China1,26753,680
Changsha🇨🇳 China1,14952,768
Stockholm🇸🇪 Sweden6,06919,984
Minneapolis🇺🇸 U.S.6,62515,375
Hefei🇨🇳 China2,54938,974
Eindhoven🇳🇱 Netherlands7,9825,339
Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia2,12640,056
Berlin🇩🇪 Germany3,62430,464
Chongqing🇨🇳 China1,65141,412
Frankfurt am Main🇩🇪 Germany5,41018,590
Sydney🇦🇺 Australia2,53933,695
Raleigh🇺🇸 U.S.3,05730,206
Madrid🇪🇸 Spain1,58038,849
Zürich🇨🇭 Switzerland3,75924,437
Milan🇮🇹 Italy2,57831,077

The first American cluster on the list, the San Francisco Bay Area, is home to major tech companies such as Adobe, eBay, Google, and PayPal.

Along with Cambridge in the United Kingdom, the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most S&T-intensive clusters relative to overall population density.

For the first time, China topped the list of countries with the highest number of clusters among the top 100, having 24 total. The United States follows, with 21 clusters, then Germany with nine.

In addition, nearly every Chinese cluster rose in the rankings compared to last year, with only Beijing falling by one place.

São Paulo (Brazil); Bengaluru, Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai (India); Tehran (Islamic Republic of Iran); Istanbul and Ankara (Türkiye); and Moscow (Russian Federation) are the only middle-income economy clusters outside China.

According to the Global Innovation Index, the U.S. leads in research and development (R&D) expenditure, followed by China, Japan, Germany, and the Republic of Korea.

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