While many of Earth's people are aware of high-profile space programs such as the United States' NASA, Russia's ROSCOSMOS, China's CNSA, and the European Space Agency (ESA)—a multinational alliance of 22 European nations—these are far from the only space agencies on Earth. In reality, more than 70 space agencies exist around the world, particularly in countries that are technologically advanced or have high military spending, with more than a dozen additional agencies on the way. Additionally, an increasing number of private space agencies continue to spring into existence, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, typically based around space tourism.
Space agencies vary greatly in terms of their capability. Of the 70+ space agencies in the world as of mid-2022, only 16 possessed the ability to conduct a space launch, and seven had the capability to send a probe to extraterrestrial locations such as the moon, Mars, or deep space. Of those, three are known to be able to conduct human spaceflights. To date, only the United States has landed humans on the moon, a feat NASA completed on six different missions between 1969 and 1972.
16 Space Agencies Capable of Completing Space Launches (2022):
|Agency||Launch||Probes||Human spaceflight||Walked on moon|
|NASA/USSF (United States)||X||X||X||X|
|ESA (many European)||X||X|
|KARI/KASI (South Korea)||X|
|NADA (North Korea)||X|
1. United States of America (NASA/USSF)
With a budget nearly twice that of the next-highest agency, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is easily the most prolific and active space agency in the world. Thanks to NASA, America was the second country to send humans to space, the first country to land humans on the moon, and one of the major contributors to the International Space Station, or ISS. Additional NASA achievements include the space shuttle program, the Voyager and Mariner probes, and the Mars rovers Curiosity and Perseverance.
NASA's most famous missions are arguably the Apollo program, which cost $20.4 billion (in the 1960s, which translates to an estimated $236 billion in modern dollars) and resulted in astronauts walking on the moon on six different occasions: Apollo missions 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, & 17. However, NASA has also seen its share of failed missions, some of which ended in tragedy. For example, Apollo 13 was forced to abort a planned moon landing when an oxygen tank ruptured. Fortunately, the crew survived. Not so fortunate were the crews of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded shortly after takeoff in January 1986; and the Space Shuttle Columbia, which broke apart during re-entry after a mission in February 2003. In both instances, all seven astronauts on board lost their lives.
In addition to NASA, the U.S. employs the United States Space Force, a branch of the U.S. military which is devoted to space just as the other branches are devoted to the land (Army, Marines), sea (Navy, Marines), and sky (Air Force). According to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the purpose of the Space Force is to "protect the interests of the United States in space, deter aggression in, from, and to space, and conduct space operations." The capstone publication Spacepower: Doctrine for Space Forces established the three cornerstone responsibilities of the Space Force, which in turn informed the force's five core competencies and seven spacepower disciplines.
United States Space Force guiding principles and duties:
|Cornerstone Responsibilities||>>>||Core Competencies||>>>||Spacepower Disciplines|
|Preserve Freedom of Action||Space Security||Orbital Warfare|
|Enable Joint Lethality and Effectiveness||Combat Power Projection||Space Electromagnetic Warfare|
|Provide Independent Options||Space Mobility & Logistics||Space Battle Management|
|Information Mobility||Space Access & Sustainment|
|Space Domain Awareness||Military Intelligence|
|Engineering & Acquisitions|
2. Russia (ROSCOSMOS/SSSR)
Russia has employed two different space agencies during the past 70+ years. First came the Kosmicheskaya programma SSSR, which was active from 1955 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The SSSR enabled Russia to become the first country on Earth to launch a space mission, as well as the first country to send humans to space—cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed an orbit of Earth on 12 April 1961, just weeks before astronaut Alan Shephard became the first American in space on 5 May of the same year.
The successor to the SSSR is the Russian Space Agency, ROSCOSMOS, established on 25 February 1992. ROSCOSMOS is a major partner in the International Space Station, though it has announced plans to leave the ISS program and establish its own space station and lunar base in the coming decade. Also, like the United States, Russia has established a space-focused branch of its military, called the Kosmicheskie voyska Rossii (KV). Thus far, the Russian Space Force's main operational focus appears to be protecting the country from missile attacks.
3. China (CNSA/CMSA)
China's space program is made up of two sister agencies: The China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the smaller China Manned Space Agency (CMSA). China is the third country to send humans into space independently, following the United States and Russia. In 1970, China succeeded in launching its first communication satellite, Dong Fang Hong I. China is currently the third-largest space power in the world. In 2019, China's Chang'e 4 probe became the first to land on the dark side of the moon. In May 2021, CNSA's Tianwen-1 mission succeeded in landing a probe on the surface of Mars, making China the second country to touch down on the red planet. China, too, has a military space force, in this case known as the People's Liberation Army Strategic Support Force (PLASSF).
4. European Space Agency (ESA)
An international alliance of 22 member states and a handful of associate members and cooperative partners, the European Space Agency (ESA) is headquartered in Paris, France and has additional offices all throughout not only Europe, but the rest of the world, including the United States and Russia. The ESA had an operating budget of €6.49 billion ($6.62 billion USD) in 2021 and operates with four main goals: Science and Exploration (unlocking the secrets of the universe), Space Safety (protecting life and infrastructure on Earth and in space), Applications (practical ways to use space to benefit mankind), and Enabling & Support (making space accessible and developing future technologies).
European Space Agency member states:
|Austria||member state||Germany||member state||Norway||member state|
|Belgium||member state||Greece||member state||Poland||member state|
|Bulgaria||cooperative||Hungary||member state||Portugal||member state|
|Canada||cooperative||Ireland||member state||Romania||member state|
|Czech Rep.||member state||Lithuania||associate||Spain||member state|
|Denmark||member state||Luxembourg||member state||Sweden||member state|
|Estonia||member state||Malta||cooperative||Switzerland||member state|
|Finland||member state||Netherlands||member state||United Kingdom||member state|
5. Italy (ASI)
The Italian Space Agency, or Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), is charged with managing Italy's space exploration activities. It coordinates with many other space agencies, such as the Italian Aerospace Research Centre (CIRA) and the ESA. Its operations include the Cassini-Huygens mission to study Saturn (a joint venture with NASA, ESA, and ASI), contributions to the ESA's Mars Express and Venus Express missions, and Rosetta, an ESA-led mission that landed a probe on a comet in 2014.
6. India (ISRO)
The Indian Space Research Organisation is a research institute for space and allied sciences supported by the Department of Space, Government of India. One of only a handful of agencies with the capability to launch satellites and extraterrestrial missions, the institute has made India a leading contributor to space-related research and development. India's first satellite, Aryabhata, was launched by the Soviet Union in 1975, and the country launched a satellite into space on its own for the first time in 1980. Since that time, India has launched probes to the moon and Mars as well as establishing one of the world's largest fleets of navigational satellites.
7. Japan (JAXA)
Japan is one of the world's leading space powers. Its national aerospace research and development activities are controlled by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which was formed in 2003 by the merger of three smaller agencies: Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL), and National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). Japan launched its first satellite, Osumi, into space in February 1970, becoming the fourth country to possess indigenous satellite launch capability. It currently operates a fleet of meteorological, communication, astronomical, and earth observation satellites.
8. France (CNES)
In addition to hosting the European Space Agency's global headquarters in Paris, France also employs its own national space agency, the National Centre for Space Studies, officially known as the Centre national d'études spatiales (CNES). One of Europe's largest national space agencies, CNES is also the third-oldest space agency in the world, trailing only NASA and Russia's SSSR/ROSCOSMOS. CNES is currently working with Germany's DLR space agency to develop a liquid oxygen and methane-powered reusable launch vehicle. CNES have five main pillars: Access to space, civil applications of space, sustainable development, science and technology research, and security and defense.
9. Australia (ASA)
Australia's previous space agencies, the National Space Program and Australian Space Office, were shuttered in 1996. However, the country resumed its role in space exploration in 2018 with the founding of the Australian Space Agency (ASA). The agency plans to triple in size by 2030, and has announced a plan to team with NASA to deploy a new moon rover by 2026.
10. Brazil (AEB)
The Agência Espacial Brasileira (AEB), known as the Brazilian Space Agency to English speakers, launched its first rocket into space in 2004. Along with more than 20 additional countries, Brazil is a partner in NASA's Artemis program, which plans to send a manned spaceflight back to the moon by 2025.
11. Iran (ISA)
The Iranian Space Agency was established in 2004, with the stated goals of making policies that promote peaceful use of space, the deployment and use of research satellites, and general regional and international cooperation in matters pertaining to space. The program was not popular internationally and was suspended from 2015 to 2021, but is currently operational again. Its two most recent successful launches have each deployed a Noor military satellite into orbit.
12. Israel (ISA)
The Israel Space Agency (Sokhnut heKhalal haYisraelit) was founded in 1983, with the intent that it replace Israel's previous space agency, the National Committee for Space Research. As of mid-2022, Israel is the smallest country to have a space agency, let alone an agency with indigenous launch capability. Israel launched its first satellite in 1988. The ISA is an enthusiastic collaborator and has signed cooperation agreements with fellow space agencies including NASA, CNES, the Canadian CSA, ISRO, ASI, Roscosmos, and more.
13. Kenya (KSA)
The Kenya Space Agency was founded in 2017, replacing the National Space Secretariat as the country's leading space agency. OPerating under the core values of excellence, professionalism, integrity, and commitment, the KSA is tasked with leveraging space research and technology (especially satellites) to improve six main areas: Agriculture, Disaster Management, Security, Communication, Urban Planning, and Resource Management.
14. South Korea (KARI/KASI)
South Korea's Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) was founded in 1989 and is focused upon improving the lives of the nation's people via exploration, technological advancement, and the sharing of discoveries and information in the fields of space science and technology. In addition to the deployment of several weather and communications satellites, KARI is currently planning the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Rover (KPLO), as well as a specialized GPS-style navigational system.
15. North Korea (NADA)
This secretive country's space agency, the National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), has attempted at least six satellite launches and succeeded at least twice. Several additional programs have been announced, including missions to launch lunar probes, explore Mars, participate in manned spaceflights, and develop a space shuttle-like reusable launch vehicle.
16. Ukraine (SSAU)
Like Russia, Ukraine is a former member of the Soviet Union and inherited much of its space program when the USSR dissolved in 1991. Its State Space Agency of Ukraine (SSAU) was formed in 1992 as the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NSAU), but changed its name in December 2010. Although Ukraine manufactured many rockets for the USSR, it lacks its own launching facilities. From 1992 to 2014, Ukraine used Russian launch pads, but that partnership ceased with Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 (a precursor to Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine). The SSAU currently allies with other agencies such as NASA and the ESA.