COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The U.S. Space Command's Space Surveillance Center has catalogued the 20,000th man-made object to orbit the Earth, officials said Friday.
Dugald Gillies, USSC deputy director of public affairs, said the Space Surveillance Center catalogued a Soviet satellite, designated COSMOS 2021, at 5:30 a.m. (MDT) Wednesday, May 24.
Sputnik I, the first man-made object in space, also was launched by the Soviet Union on Oct. 4, 1957.
'Of the 20,000 objects catalogued since then, approximately 7,000 remain in orbit,' Gillies said.
Those objects range in size from a wrench dropped by a Space Shuttle astronaut to payloads weighing several tons, he said.
The Space Surveillance Center's main goal is to track satellite payloads. But it also catalogues and tracks space debris, including spent rocket bodies, launch hardware and fragments resulting from in-space breakups of larger objects. About 5,000 of the 7,000 objects in orbit are classified as space junk.
Gillies said some of the space objects and debris catalogued by the SSC are in deep space, where atmospheric drag is considerably less.
'According to orbital analysts, those objects will stay in orbit for hundreds or even thousands of years,' he said.