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National Space Programmes

Since the very beginning of The Space Race back in 1957 different countries all over the world have been developing their space technologies with a massive effort. At first, it was only the USA and USSR, but then Europe and China joined with more than 120 governmental space agencies. There are also a number of space agencies, that are expected to be established in the following years.  The development of the governmental agencies has accelerated during the last 10 years, f.e. UAESA ran by the United Arab Emirates was only formed in 2014, but has already sent a probe to Mars.


Governmental agencies have always been the ones to exclusively run manned and unmanned flights. At first, it was about launching satellites into orbit and probes to other planets, but today we already have a set of rovers on Mars, a giant space station built with the cooperation of many different countries and the telescopes that have left the Solar system and could look into the past of our galaxy. Much more is yet to come. Some agencies have concentrated on implementing high-precision Earth observation satellites, that will help with monitoring the conditions on the planet. Others are building telescopes that will answer a broad variety of big questions about physics and space.

Number of Satellites by Country
Government Space Budgets in Billions of USD

+ - Yes;  - - No;   +/- - Partial

Government Space Budgets in $, Millions

The United States spends more on space than all other countries combined. Its space exploration budget exceeds those of China, Russia, France, Japan, and Germany by wide margin. In 2018, of $70.9 billion government space investments, 63% were spent on civil programs, as military budgets tend to fluctuate on lengthier budget cycles. World space budgets are projected to continue their growth trend in the medium term, peaking at an estimated $84.6B by 2025, before downcycling.

Number of SpaceTech Companies by Country

More than half of the companies analyzed in the report are US-based. However, the geographical distribution of SpaceTech companies is wider and more diverse than that of government-funded space exploration programmes. Interestingly, even countries whose space exploration budgets are relatively small have SpaceTech companies. 

Countries with the Most Advanced Space Programmes: United States of America


Since the retirement of its space shuttle program in 2011, the United States had depended on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to get its astronauts to the International Space Station. That changed on May 30, 2020, with the launch of SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. This is a clear demonstration of NASA’s plans to cooperate with viable commercial alternatives; however, it doesn’t mean that further cooperation with other countries, including Russia, will no longer be an option. 

  • Building a comprehensive military advantage in space;

  • Integrating space in the joint force together with allies and partners;

  • Shaping a strategic environment;

  • Working with allies, partners, industry partners, and other U.S. agencies.

Relationships with China

Complicated as they are, they tend to be particularly tricky when it comes to cooperation in space. 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. Though it does not stop the two countries from having strategic space dialogue, it still is a major obstacle to US-China cooperation in space. In June 2020, the Defense Department released its four-pillar strategy outlining work to be done in space in the next decade and beyond. According to it, the country’s main efforts will be invested in:

The Juno Mission


Launched in 2011, the Juno mission is expected to continue until September 2025 or the end of its life, whichever comes first. The Juno spacecraft has already made discoveries about:

  • Jupiter's interior structure, 

  • magnetic field, and magnetosphere

  • 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.

Two main NASA missions: 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.

The InSight Mission


It is extended for two years, running through December 2022. InSight's spacecraft deployed its highly sensitive seismometer to expand the understanding of Mars' crust and mantle. The mission team collected data demonstrating the robust tectonic activity of Mars.

  • 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.


After becoming the third country to launch a human into space in 2003, China has been steadily expanding its space program. One of its major accomplishments was when Chang’e 5 lunar probe successfully landed on the Moon on December 1, 2020. The landing 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.

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. 

“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.”

Tiangong Space Station

One of the most ambitious China’s projects is Tiangong Space Station. Tiangong is the successor to China’s Tiangong-1 and Tiangong-2 space laboratories, which were deorbited in 2016 and 2019 respectively. The station shall be completed by the end of 2022 and will consist of a core module Tianhe and two laboratory modules Wentian and Mengtian. It will be capable of docking two more spacecraft: one manned and another cargo. It will be able to accommodate three astronauts in normal circumstances.

Tianhe core module will be used as a command center and living space, while lab modules will be equipped with special facilities for conducting scientific and technological experiments.  One of  them is  also  equipped  with a  special airlock  

chamber to support extravehicular activities and a small mechanical arm, while the other one is equipped with a special airlock chamber to support the entry and exit of cargo.


On 29 April 2021 Tianhe Core Module was launched into orbit with The Long March-5B rocket. It was successfully brought to orbit at an altitude from 340 km to 450 and in an hour and 13 minutes after launch, its solar panels started operating and the module powered up. However, the launch vehicle started tumbling during deorbiting and entered a temporary, uncontrolled failing orbit. The main concern was that the trajectory of the vehicle was unpredictable, so it could cause serious damage during re-entry, but eventually it ended up falling onto the Indian ocean.

The Russian Federation

Russia is renowned for having sent the first man into space and launching the first satellite. However, it has recently experienced a series of major setbacks, resulting in the loss of expensive spacecraft and satellites. Only a decade ago Russia was the world’s leader in terms of the number of space launches; however, 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 capable of ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. 

Today, Russia’s priorities in space are far more ‘down to earth’ than those of the USSR.

Starting from 2014, Russia has focused its efforts on massive reorganization and consolidation of its space industry under Roscosmos, a state-owned corporation since 2015.

In September 2020, Roscosmos declared Venus a “Russian planet” and announced its intention to send a mission to the Moon, which will be independent from the one planned with the US.

Roscosmos also plans to send tourists to the ISS by 2023. In addition to the Luna 27 project, Dmitry Rogozin, the Space Agency’s Director-General, announced Russia’s lunar program. According to it, Russia plans to send its first astronaut to the Moon in 2030. 

Wooden satellites would burn up without releasing harmful substances into the atmosphere or raining debris on the ground when they plunge back to Earth.


Over the past several decades, Japan has emerged as a leading space-faring nation. Unlike other major players, such as the United States, China, and Russia, Japan has achieved its status while remaining committed to “peaceful uses of outer space” as per the Outer Space Treaty (OST) of 1967. To emerge as a key space-faring nation, Japan relied heavily on its niche strength in robotics. In 2013, Japan became the first country to launch a robotic astronaut, Kirobo, to the International Space Station (ISS). 

Today, Russia’s priorities in space are far more ‘down to earth’ than those of the USSR.

The use of robotics in space missions has extended to the arena of deep space exploration, as well through the much-acclaimed Hayabusa missions. In 2003, they have launched the Hayabusa spacecraft, which entered the history books as the first mission to return asteroid dust to Earth. Later on, JAXA has tested the concept of an electrodynamic tether that would catch space debris and float it down to the Low Earth Orbit (LEO). They would work on developing wooden materials highly resistant to temperature changes and sunlight. By 2023, Japan plans to launch the world's first satellite made out of wood. 


The UAE’s Space Agency doesn’t have a long history; however, it isn’t exactly its history that makes it an interesting case study. Established in 2014, it has already scored some major successes, with the most notable one being a mission to Mars. After a seven-month and 494 million kilometre journey, the Agency’s spacecraft entered the red planet’s orbit in February 2021 and began sending data about the Martian atmosphere and climate. It made the UAE the fifth space agency to reach the planet. According to the Agency, it has plans for establishing a Mars settlement by 2117.

The Mars Programme

The programme is part of the UAE’s ongoing effort to develop its scientific and technological capabilities and reduce its reliance on oil. Hence, for Emiratis, space-science goals come second. Faced with economic and environmental challenges, the small, oil-rich Gulf state hopes the Mars project can accelerate its transformation into a knowledge economy — by encouraging research, degree programmes in basic sciences and inspiring the youth across the Arab states. Like major port and road ventures before it, the Mars mission is a mega-project designed to cause “a big shift in the mindset”.


India’s space program has grown and evolved significantly in the past five decades. Originally developing space assets that provided direct developmental benefits, India has shifted its focus toward space exploration and other high-profile missions that do not have as clear a developmental purpose as earlier.  This includes, for example, India’s Mars and Moon exploratory missions. 

18 ISRO centers aim to scale up capabilities related to ground stations, human spaceflight, satellite platforms and more. The Vikram Sarabhai Space Center, in particular, was directed to continue its "competence in launch-vehicle development toward heavy-lift capabilities, achieving partial and full reusability" and scramjet engine (supersonic-combustion ramjet, a type of supersonic engine) research.

The next major step for India is a first crewed space mission, Gaganyaan, to be undertaken by 2022.

India’s already robust program has also acquired national security overtones over the last decade. This is partly driven by India’s growing technological capacity. But an important part of the reason for this change is the evolving security threats that India has faced, especially in relation to Pakistan and China. 

This decade ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) has made public its intention to develop reusable rocket-launch technology and start building reusable rockets in the following decade. Meanwhile, in a "New Year Message for 2021," ISRO Chairman K. Sivan highlighted that the "space sector is facing disruption due to the entry of many private players".

European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Space Agency is the coordinating entity for European civilian space activities. Having 22 member states, it’s headquartered in Paris and has several centers in other European countries. It mainly focuses on:

Combating El Nino (a weather phenomenon responsible for some of the world’s most drastic and devastating disasters) and monitoring particular aspects of the environment;

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. The ESA's purpose shall be to promote exclusively peaceful space exploration, cooperation among European States in space research and technology, as well as their space applications, with a view of using them for scientific purposes and operational space applications systems.

Observing environmentally unfriendly factors (air pollution from transportation, power stations and industrial processes) on a daily basis, using ERS satellites, and building up a database from which one can learn and act upon;

Monitoring ozone levels;

Observing polar ice caps;

Preventing the devastation that oil pollution can bring to coastal, sea and marine environments;

By 2030 ESA is going to implement the following visions:
European Space Agency (ESA)

The International Space Station (ISS) is a modular space station (habitable artificial satellite) in low Earth orbit. It is a multinational collaborative project involving five participating space agencies: NASA (United States), Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe), and CSA (Canada). The ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements.

Orbit altitude: 408 km

Orbital speed: 7.66 km / s

Launch date: 20 Nov 1998

Launch weight: 419 700 kg

Cost: $150 billion


The ISS was originally intended to be a laboratory, observatory, and factory while providing transportation, maintenance, and a low Earth orbit staging base for possible future missions to the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. However, not all of the uses envisioned in the initial memorandum of understanding between NASA and Roscosmos have been realized, In the 2010 United States National Space Policy, the ISS was given additional roles of serving commercial, diplomatic, and educational purposes.

Scientific research

The ISS provides a platform to conduct scientific research, with power, data, cooling, and crew available to support experiments. 

European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is a robotic servicing system, which will be used to assemble and service the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

The ERA has several interesting features. Most prominent are its ability to 'walk' around the exterior of the Russian segments of the station under its own control, moving hand-over-hand between pre-fixed base points, and its ability to perform many tasks automatically or semi-automatically, thereby freeing its operators to do other work. Specific tasks of ERA include:

Installation and deployment of solar arrays

Replacement of solar arrays

Inspection of the station

Handling of (external) payloads

Support of astronauts during space walks

NASA Space Apps Challenge 2020

NASA Space Apps Challenge is the world’s largest global hackathon, created in 2012, that engages thousands of people across the planet to use NASA’s open data to build innovative solutions to challenges humanity faces on Earth and in space. Teams of technologists, scientists, designers, and others are welcome to collaborate and to figure out the best solutions to challenges on Earth and in space with NASA’s open-source data in a 48-hour sprint. Last year’s hackathon had over 26000 participants in 2303 teams from 150 countries. Here are the winners:

Launches and Landings Scheduled by NASA in 2021

Launches and Landings Scheduled by Other Space Agencies in 2021-2022

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