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[i]A close look shows that the traditional definition flies in the face of evidence, says Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As a hobby, McDowell compiles an influential, detailed record of rocket launches online. "I've been making lists of rockets since I was 13," he says. He often has to decide which launches qualify as reaching outer space, and which do not. Given how low many orbiting satellites fly, the 100-kilometer limit never seemed right to McDowell. He preferred the mesopause, the coldest point in Earth's atmosphere, located roughly 85 kilometers up. (Recent estimates have bumped it somewhat higher.)
...He started with data: namely, public records of satellite telemetry he had downloaded from the North American Aerospace Defense Command about the orbits of 43,000 satellites. Most didn't matter for his project—they orbited far too high above the edge of outer space. But at least 50 had orbits that occasionally operated below 100 kilometers, such as the Soviet Elektron-4 satellite, which made 10 spins at 85 kilometers or below before disintegrating into the atmosphere in 1997. "Are you going to say [these satellites are] in space and then not in space every 2 hours?" he asked. "That doesn't seem very helpful."[/i]
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