Crowded Space

Happy new year to the readers of Rambles in the Air!

Having been amazed at the efforts of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) with its Chang’e and Tianwen programs, and having read a little too much Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson, I started wondering which other governments around the world had ambitions in space. I didn’t think the resulting list would be quite as big as it turned out. I thought I would look first at Wikipedia, whose article “List of government space agencies” ( has a few surprises even if it hasn’t been fully updated recently.

JAXA – Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. H-IIA Launch Vehicle Flight 13, launching lunar orbiter “KAGUYA” (SELENE:SELenological and ENgineering Explorer)  from the Tanegashima Space Center. on 14 September 2007 Photo by Naritama (NARITA Masahiro). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

There is much more detail in the article itself, but the top-line numbers are fascinating. As of 2018, there were 72 (seventy-two !!) government space agencies extant; 14 (fourteen) of those 72 have launch capability, and 6 (six) of the 14 have full launch and recovery capabilities, including the ability to land a vehicle/probe/device on an extraterrestrial surface.

The countries with a launch capability are:

  • Australia – ASA (Australian Space Agency)
  • China – CNSA (China National Space Administration)
  • Europe – ESA (European Space Agency)
  • France – CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales)
  • Iran – ISA (Iranian Space Agency)
  • Israel – ISA (Israeli Space Agency)
  • Italy – ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana)
  • North Korea – KCST (National Aerospace Development Administration)
  • South Korea – KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute)
  • India – ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)
  • Japan – JAXA – (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federal Space agency)
  • Ukraine – SSAU (State Space Agency of Ukraine)
  • USA – NASA and USSF (United States Space Force)

I’m interested that the French CNES is listed separately from the European Space Agency but most of the European countries have their own space research projects. With the execution of Brexit I have no idea what the relationship of the British UKSA (United Kingdom Space Agency) and the ESA will be, given that the UK government has pulled out of Educational programs like ERASMUS.

The Italian ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) is a partner in the ESA’s Ariane and Vega launchers and has been a major contributor to satellite technology. I was surprised to discover that Italy the third nation to have its own artificial satellite in Earth orbit when it launched San Marco 1 from the USA in December 1964.

The Cassini–Huygens mission was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to send a space probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. This is an artists impression of Cassini during the Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) maneuver. (NASA Image – Public Domain)

Countries with a Human Spaceflight Capability:

  • China – CNSA
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS
  • USA – NASA

Countries with an Extraterrestrial Landing Capability:

  • China – CNSA
  • Europe – ESA
  • India – ISRO
  • Italy – ASI
  • Japan – JAXA
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS
  • USA – NASA
Indian Space Research Organisation in action. PSLV-C11 carrying the Chandrayaan-1 Lunar probe (orbiter and impactor) lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh on 22 October 2008. The mission was a major boost to India’s space program. In 2016, NASA identified the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter still circling the moon, seven years after its mission officially ended when the satellite had ceased communicating with ISRO. Picture Attribution: Indian Space Research Organisation (GODL-India)

Let us also not forget the privateers who are active in the cargo launch market in the United States, these are: SpaceX (how could we forget?), Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation who are planning to be in the market sometime in 2022 More of them in another blog article, perhaps.