A military satellite is a human-made satellite placed into orbit for military use. The satellites are mostly used for communication, navigation, and intelligence gathering. Some satellites were also developed for early warning of approaching missiles. The US Navy used the first navigation satellite in 1960. By 2013 there were 950 satellites of different types in Earth’s orbit. The total number of military satellites in the world is approximated at 320 with some countries owning several while others having none. The US accounts for nearly half of all the military satellites in space.
Countries By Number of Military Satellites
The US has 123 military satellites. The first formal military satellite projects were made and launched in the US in the 1950s. The first project was known as Weapon System 117L. The initial satellites to be launched were named Discoverer and were used to observe the Earth and take pictures. On February 28, 1959, the first satellite, Discoverer-1 was launched. There have been several projects in the US including Corona, Canyon, Aquacade, Orion, Magnum, and Trumpet. The latest satellite to be launched was a Wideband Global SATCOM (WGS-9). The satellite was built by Boeing and was the ninth to be launched as part of a ten-member satellite project by the US Air Force. The satellites are to be used for communication. Intelsat is a commercial satellite operator, and it manages by the US military space units.
Russia owns 74 military satellites. Russia under the Soviet Union started a military space station program in the 1960s. The program was known as Almaz and was keen on using space stations instead of satellites. The program was active as from 1973 to 1976 with three stations established named Salyut 2, 3, and Salyut 5. The program was then abandoned by the stations were expensive to maintain compared to automatic satellites. On March 16, 1962, Russia launched its first satellite named Kosmos 1. On December 2, 2017, Russia launched its latest satellite to be used for detecting, tracking, and destroying of missiles attacking the country. The satellite will also warn the government of attacking missiles. The satellite is named Kosmos 2524.
People's Republic of China
China has 68 satellites set for military use. The Chinese space program dates back to the 1950s. The military operated satellites are named Yaogan. Yaogan 30D, 30E, and 30F were launched on November 24, 2017. The three are said to be experimental and are to be used for intelligence gathering. The People's Liberation Army owns and runs the satellites. The Micro-Satellite Research Institute constructed the satellites. The latest Yaogan satellites are thought to be small, to contain sharper sensors and to be able to survey at lower altitudes.
Military Satellites By Other Countries
Other countries like France, UK, Germany, Israel, and Japan own less than ten military satellites. Due to secrecy and some having GPS satellites serving both military and civilian use it is difficult to know the exact number of military satellites. With ongoing satellite projects and the launching of more satellites, the number is increasing yearly, and with new technology, newer satellites can collect more information and perform more functions.