Countries with the Best Space Programmes: Activity Overview
Government Space Budgets in Billions of USD
The United States of America has the largest space budget, which exceeds the space budgets of all other countries combined. China, Russia, France, Japan, Germany follow the US by a wide margin. Of 2018’s $70.9 billion government space investments, 63% were spent on civil programs, as military budgets tend to fluctuate on lengthier budget cycles. World budgets are forecast to continue their growth trend in the medium term, peaking at an estimated $84.6 billion by 2025, before downcycling.
More than half of the companies featured in the study are based in the US. At the same time, the geography of SpaceTech companies is wider and more diverse than the geography of governmental space programs. Even the countries which do not have extensive space budgets are characterized by the presence of SpaceTech companies.
Number of SpaceTech Companies by Country
The United States of America
For the better part of a decade, since the retirement of the space shuttle program in 2011, the United States depended on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to the International Space Station. That changed on 30 May 2020 with the launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. America’s private companies are taking on tasks that, historically, only the U.S. government had been capable of. This raises a question about NASA’s goal with viable commercial alternatives. In any case, it doesn’t eliminate further cooperation with other countries, including Russia.
NASA's Share of Federal Spending
Relationships with China are complicated in any case, but space, in particular, is quite tricky. American legislation, namely the Wolf Amendment of 2011, prevents the White House and NASA from engaging in space-related cooperation with China without prior sign-off from the FBI. The two countries have had strategic space dialogues, but the Wolf Amendment remains a significant barrier to US-China collaboration in space.
In June 2020, the Defense Department released its Space Strategy document. That document lays out the department's four-pillar strategy for work that needs to be done in space within the next decade and beyond. The key efforts will be invested in:
Building a comprehensive military advantage in space;
Integrating space in the joint force and with allies and partners;
Shaping the strategic environment;
Work with allies, partners, industry partners, and other U.S. agencies.
Two main NASA mission: Mars and Jupiter exploration
Citing discoveries that have "produced exceptional science," NASA has decided to add several years to two of its planetary science missions: the Jupiter Juno mission and the Mars InSight lander.
"The Senior Review has validated that these two planetary science missions are likely to continue to bring new discoveries, and produce new questions about our solar system," said Lori Glaze, director of the planetary science division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
NASA’s long-term goal is a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
The Juno mission launched in 2011 and was scheduled to stop functioning in July 2021, but will now continue until September 2025 or the end of its life, whichever comes first. The Juno spacecraft and its mission team have already made discoveries about Jupiter's interior structure, magnetic field, and magnetosphere, and have found its atmospheric dynamics to be far more complex than scientists previously thought. Juno will further continue to observe both the gas giant and the planet's rings and its moons, including "close flybys" of Ganymede, Europa, and Io.
The InSight mission is extended for two years, running through December 2022. InSight's spacecraft and team deployed and operated its highly sensitive seismometer to expand our understanding of Mars' crust and mantle. Searching for and identifying Marsquakes, the mission team collected data clearly demonstrating the robust tectonic activity of the Red Planet, and enhanced knowledge of the planet's atmospheric dynamics, magnetic field, and interior structure.
In April 2019, the InSight lander recorded the first-ever "Mars quake". In September 2019, the InSight lander detected bizarre bursts of magnetic pulses on Mars that raised "interesting question".
Total Satellite Launches in China
China became the third country ever to launch a human into space in 2003 and has been expanding its space program ever since. China’s space program celebrated a major accomplishment when its Chang’e 5 lunar probe mission safely landed on the moon on 1 December 2020. The landing day brought Beijing a step closer to becoming the third country in the world to retrieve geological samples from the moon. While reaching the moon remains a significant accomplishment for any space program, Beijing’s space program is still in its early stages and is still building experience.
“They're catching up to where the United States was in the 1960s,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis and space security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “The United States has already sent not just probes to the moon but humans and returned to the Earth and brought back samples of lunar rocks. So China is catching up in that respect, but they're still not where the United States is in terms of space technology. But it is nevertheless a competition for science.”
Xi Jinping aspires to achieve an authoritarian-led space order with economic generosity and a carefully constructed narrative of “benefiting humankind.” Lurking behind that feel-good narrative, however, is a highly nationalistic and ambitious space program that aspires to establish China as the leading nation in space innovation by 2049.
The Russian space programme is renowned for having sent the first man into space in 1961 and launching the first satellite four years earlier. But more recently it has endured a series of setbacks, notably losing expensive spacecraft and satellites in recent years. A decade ago Russia was behind a large proportion of the world’s launches, but that is no longer the case today due to competition from China and SpaceX. Russia has lost its long-held monopoly as the only country able to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station following the successful launch by U.S. company SpaceX.
NASA’s Payments to Russia for Sending Their Astronauts into Space, per seat
Nevertheless, in September 2020, Russia’s Roscosmos declared Venus a “Russian planet” and announced their intention of sending a national mission to Earth’s closest neighbour, independent from the one planned with the US. Roscosmos also plans to send tourists on the ISS by 2023. In addition to the Luna 27 project, the Space Agency’s Director General Dmitry Rogozin announced Russia’s lunar programme and plans to send its first astronaut on the Moon in 2030.
Russia’s priorities in space today are far more grounded that its Soviet predecessor. The primary task for the Russian space industry is to retain Soviet-era capabilities. These efforts since at least 2014 have been enshrined in the massive reorganization and consolidation of the space industry under Roscosmos, which in 2015 became a state-owned corporation.
The European Space Agency is the coordinating entity for European civilian space activities. With 22 member states, its headquarters is in Paris, and it also has several centers scattered in several European countries. Its activity is aimed at several aspects:
Distribution of the ESA’s budget
Observing environmentally unfriendly factors (pollution from the cars, the power stations, and the industrial processes) on a daily basis, using the technology of the ERS satellites, and building up a library of information from which to learn and act upon;
Combating El Nino (the weather phenomenon responsible for some of the world’s most drastic and devastating disasters) monitoring particular aspects of the environment;
Observation of polar ice caps;
Preventing the devastation that oil pollution can bring to coastal, sea, and marine environments;
Keeping ongoing information on ozone levels.
Its mission is to shape the development of Europe’s space capability and ensure that investment in space continues to deliver benefits to the citizens of Europe and the world. ESA's purpose shall be to provide for, and to promote, for exclusively peaceful purposes, cooperation among European States in space research and technology and their space applications, with a view to their being used for scientific purposes and for operational space applications systems.