What pros and cons would a orbiting ring have for Earth? Is there enough satellites in orbit to form a joined ring?

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    $\begingroup$ Some of your questions are really really interesting, but this one seems so arbitrary and pointless and not-thought through. Could action X be done? Would action X have benefits? I think you should wait and not ask this one until you have some idea yourself why it might be a good idea. There are a zillion possible ideas for action X, that doesn't mean they would make a zillion good questions. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Dec 18, 2018 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by a ring? Something closer to what we think of as Saturn's rings or closer to the faint, tenuous ones of Jupiter and Neptune? Are there benefits to any of the existing rings in the solar system you are referencing? $\endgroup$
    – Bob516
    Dec 18, 2018 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ The rings of Saturn are very thin, but the rings of Jupiter and Neptune are much thinner. But the total mass of the Saturn rings is about 30 trillion tons. look for the total mass of all satellites around Earth. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 18, 2018 at 21:24
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    $\begingroup$ Just calculate the circumference of a LEO at 400 km. Then divide this length by 10 m for a typical space debris object (a very large one). $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 18, 2018 at 21:38
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    $\begingroup$ Well, building a ring would provide jobs. That goes in the "pro" column. :) $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2018 at 22:00

1 Answer 1


In terms of what is up there number looks like a couple of thousand tonnes.

Taking the figure of 7500tonnes, working from radius of LEO at 6770 km gives a ring length of 42537 km. That would give enough mass for 176kgs per km or 176g per meter which is a reasonably sized rod depending on how much metal and how much fiberglass etc makes up the overall mass.

The challenge is that all of that mass is not neatly arranged in a ring. a lot of it is out at GEO or at inclined orbits. Looking at this table moving mass from various inclined orbits to equatorial (or just all of it to a single inclined orbit) will take 1/4 to 1/3 the DV to simply launch a new structure into orbit.

Technically it might be possible to do a low cost GEO to LEO involving aerobraking but the highly inclined LEO mass is expensive no matter which way you cut it. So actually getting all this mass moved will involve launching a whole bunch more mass in the forms of tugs and fuel for them. Turning miscellaneous space junk into a contiguous structure is also an interesting question.

One key problem with this is that it will not be stable, and need station keeping fuel to maintain a circular orbit. As soon as it moves out of the circular orbit (or simply orbiting a path that is not circular to start with due earths mass imbalance) either it will start to deform and breakup and become a collection of space junk again, or if flexible enough to deform without breaking, that energy consumed to deform the structure would result in a lower energy overall orbit until atmospheric drag occurred.

I am unsure how to model something akin to aluminum and fibreglass rope intersecting the atmosphere like at 7kms but I'm assuming one way or another the entire structure will hit in the course of 90 minute ish orbit, spreading across about 2500km of the surface in a narrow line, which means each km gets hit with about 3 tonnes of structure, either in solid chunks (our structure is low drag) or just the burnt vapours and dust.

If the aim is to remove space junk a much lower DV option is to just de-orbit it without any plane changes, as the needed changes are in hundreds of meters a second not thousands.

  • $\begingroup$ Deformation and breaking of the ring with a non circular orbit will be caused by the different velocities within an elliptic orbit? $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 20, 2018 at 22:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe was only thinking about the shape change causing bending, but you are right and the velocity changes would actually be more problematic to engineer around since they would tend to deform out of plane and then pull tight again each orbit adding wobbling inclination to the instability. $\endgroup$ Dec 20, 2018 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Shape change of such a huge ring would be a minor problem. Bending a very long rod by the same shift is much easier than a short one. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Dec 20, 2018 at 22:47

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