Chet Skwarcan is an award-winning engineer, writer, and industry innovator in the field of traffic engineering. He is known for leveraging his creativity, logic, and technology to solve today’s engineering challenges.

Should We Care About ‘Space Traffic’ Congestion?

When you hear the word, “traffic,” what emotions are emoted? Do you think of only car traffic? Or air traffic? We better start including space traffic…

Last July, three rockets from three different countries launched toward Mars — all within two weeks of each other. This was not a competition (?) but there was a small window of opportunity. Mars and Earth are only on the same side of the Sun every 26 months (I’m talking about earth months). If you miss this window, you will have to wait another two years to launch (i.e., earth years). Apparently, we have to see Mars when we launch. Makes sense — how else would we know where to point the rocket?

Space traffic is indeed becoming a concern. Space traffic includes launch vehicles, satellites, space debris, and of course, The International Space Station (TISS). Granted, there is only one space station (1SS) operating at present, but there about a dozen defunct space stations. Most of these disintegrated into a million pieces (an approximation) when they re-entered the atmosphere (now you know what your dog found).

Satellites, however, number around 6000! Only about half of these are currently active. But very soon, probably Tuesday, major companies including Amazon and Elon Musk, plan to add more than 50,000 additional satellites (that’s not a typo). This will make it very tricky to get to the moon (or even see the moon). And then there’s space debris (you can probably imagine what that entails)…

There’s urgent need to establish ground rules for space traffic. And because ground rules don’t apply to space traffic, we are talking about something that doesn’t exist. Who would ever imagine that “outer space” could get crowded? It wasn’t that long ago we had a similar attitude toward airspace. But planes and jets and drones (and geese) have changed all that.

The accelerated growth of the satellite population requires worldwide cooperation. There are valid concerns about satellite collisions. As the number of satellites increase, the potential for collision increase. Creating even more debris which in turn increases the likelihood of more collisions. Some debris remains in orbit and some debris disintegrates in the earth’s atmosphere. And since an orbital collision can occur at speeds up to 30,000 mph — you can understand how debris could result. “Fido, put that down!”

Chet Skwarcan (traffic engineer, author, unique insights) with over 25 years of traffic engineering experience — online help available at