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Illustration: Eric Frommelt

Intro

Earth’s Near Orbit
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Earth’s near orbit is pretty crowded — there are more than 21,000 space objects; from satellites and derelict spacecraft to the gloves, spatulas, tool bags and cameras lost by astronauts.

Here, we take a look at what resides in Earth’s near orbit, including two of USC Viterbi’s own nanosatellites.

There are currently 1,167 operational satellites in orbit, 502 of which are from the United States.

Earth’s near orbit is pretty crowded — there are more than 21,000 space objects; from satellites and derelict spacecraft to the gloves, spatulas, tool bags and cameras lost by astronauts.

Here, we take a look at what resides in Earth’s near orbit, including two of USC Viterbi’s own nanosatellites.

Links for stories on Viterbi nano-satellites:

CaerusAeneas

What is graveyard orbit? It’s several hundred kilometers above synchronous orbit, where defunct satellites are moved to prevent any possible collisions.

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The Soviet Union’s Sputnik I may have been the first artificial Earth satellite, but Vanguard I, an American satellite that launched back in 1958, is still in orbit today, making it the oldest piece of space debris. 

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Not much bigger than a loaf of bread, USC Viterbi’s Space Engineering Research Center (SERC)’s nanosatellite Aeneas (Greek for “praise”) was the first CubeSat (miniaturized satellite) to track a point on the surface of the Earth. It was also the first to deploy a half-meter parabolic dish, the largest deployable from a nanosatellite.

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Caerus, named for the Greek word for “opportunity,” was USC Viterbi’s first satellite subsystem, launched in 2010. It was built to support communications for a 3-unit (or 3U) system called MAYFLOWER in a technology mission.

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Ever think about where your TV signal comes from? Galaxy 12, 14 and 15 are three commercial communications satellites that send digital TV signals to the East Coast. You can thank this trio for your favorite shows on ESPN and A&E.