This Is Why Sputnik Crashed Back To Earth After Only 3 Months
“But for the 25,000+ other satellites in low-Earth orbit, there is no controlled re-entry coming. Earth’s atmosphere will take them down, extending far beyond the artificial edge of space, or Kármán line, that we typically draw. If we were to cease launching satellites today, then in under a century, there would be no remaining trace of humanity’s presence in low-Earth orbit.
Sputnik 1 was launched in 1957, and just three months later, it spontaneously de-orbited and fell back to Earth. The particles from our atmosphere rise far above any artificial line we’ve drawn, affecting all of our Earth-orbiting satellites. The farther your perihelion is, the longer you can remain up there, but the harder it becomes to send-and-receive signals from here on the surface. Until we have a fuel-free technology to passively boost our satellites to keep them in a more stable orbit, Earth’s atmosphere will continue to be the most destructive force to humanity’s presence in space.”
On October 4th, 1957, the world changed forever with the launch of Sputnik 1. One of the common questions that astronomers get asked is whether we can still see it or not. The answer surprises most people: not only can’t we see it, but it crashed back to Earth just 3 months after launch, before the United States even launched its first successful satellite: Explorer 1. Moreover, the reason this happened wasn’t due to any technical flaw or malfunction, but due to the simple physical fact that Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t end where we erroneously and arbitrarily define the “edge of space” to be. Instead, atmospheric drag affects all satellites in low-Earth orbit, and will eventually take down everything from the International Space Station to the Hubble Space Telescope.