The phrase “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” has been immortalized ever since astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first space explorer to step foot on the moon in July of 1969. While the Apollo 11 shuttle launch and subsequent mission to the moon were a massive moment in the exploration of space, it is a fact that many powerful nations were spending vast amounts of money on space exploration before and after that historic journey. What is also a fact is that the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the two nations that still spend the most money on their space programs are the same two that were involved in the space race during the moon landing in 1969. While in 2014 space exploration has become less of a priority for most of these nations, and global funding has actually decreased by nearly $2 billion over the past two years, some countries still invest a large portion of their financial resources into maintaining, and in some cases growing, their space programs. Here is a list of the top ten countries that spend the most on space exploration.
10. Canada: $488 million
A surprising entry on this list, the Canadian government has a budget of nearly $500 million this year despite having no major ongoing projects in the works. In fact, since the 2007 launch of the Radarsat-2, Canada’s space agency, the CSA’s initiatives have focused on the completion of three more satellites that are set to launch sometime in 2016. Many other Canadian space programs remain without funding, most notably the Polar Communication and Weather mission, which hopes to launch two satellites into space over the arctic in order to afford Canadian authorities better weather information. While these satellites were planned to be launched in 2016, further funding has yet to be approved.
9. India: $1.1 billion
The first billion dollar spender on this list, it comes as no surprise that emerging India is spending a hefty sum on their space program. With a planned total of 58 missions to space that began in 2012 and will come to an end in 2017, India has no designs of competing with the major players in space exploration, but still aspires to be a leader in the field of space technology. As such, ISRO, India’s Space program, plans a further 33 satellite launches coupled with unmanned vehicle launches to Mars over the next two and a half years
8. China: $1.3 billion
Though China is still number eight in this list with space expenditures not much higher than India, the CNSA is expected to follow Russia’s lead and ramp up spending in the coming years. Since 2011 the CNSA has launched unmanned rover expeditions to the moon and the beginnings of China’s first space station, Tiangong, into orbit. The Tiangong program aims to launch a fully operational space station similar to Mir by 2023, hence the expected increase in funding of the CNSA over the next decade.
7. Italy: $1.8 billion
Although Italy’s space program did not officially begin work until 1988, most of the early space exploration Italy undertook was in cooperation with NASA on many satellite and rover missions. The country’s space agency, the ASI, located in Rome, is a major contributor to the European Launcher Development Program, as well as the European Space Research Organization. Beyond that, Italy has been instrumental in building cargo containers and modules that aid in both the transportation of parts to the International Space Station and in station function. Last year Italy and the United States celebrated 50 years of cooperation in space, confirming many more years to come.
6. Germany: $2 billion
With ten space missions currently active, and a further 16 already completed, Germany’s DLR space agency has been an active force in global research. As such, a portion the DLR’s budget is allocated to the ten laboratories that were created to promote young research talent and development. Like many of its European counterparts, a large portion of Germany’s $2 billion space program budget also goes towards its role in the European Space Agency as well.
5. Japan: $2.4 billion
Formed in 2003 when three separate space agencies merged, Japan’s JAXA is a highly respected space program. JAXA not only takes part in research and technology, but has also taken part in launching satellites into orbit and the exploration of asteroids and as of 2014, has developed ambitious plans for manned and unmanned launches to explore both Mars and the Moon. If these plans come to fruition, expect JAXA’s budget to rise.
4. France: $2.5 billion
Former French President Charles de Gaulle formed France’s CNES in Paris in 1961. Since then CNES has launched numerous rockets and satellites into space and played an integral role in both the activities of the International Space Station as well as within the European Space Agency. Up until this past year much of the French contribution to space exploration recently has come in the form of the research and development of orbital telescopes, though in 2014 CNES announced the launch of a revolutionary planetary satellite observation system, E-CORCE.
3. Europe: $5.5 billion
The European Space Agency (ESA) is a union of 20 member countries that work together with the mandate to explore space. Founded in 1975, and headquartered in Paris, the ESA’s programs have included unmanned missions to the moon and earth orbiting projects as well as involvement in the Hubble Space Telescope. The ESA is also a leader in the building of commercial rockets with the wildly successful Ariane rockets used to launch satellites into orbit. The newest Ariane rocket, Ariane-6 is set for active duty by the early 2020s. Furthermore, the ESA saw great success with its SMART-1 satellite, launched in 2003, which orbited the moon using cutting edge propulsion technology.
2. Russia: over $7.7 billion
The Russian space program has grown on average nearly 30% over the last five years. President Valdimir Putin announced last year, on the 52nd anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight as the first man to enter space, that the government will be spending over $50 billion on the Russian Federal Space Agency or Roscomos, between 2013 and 2020, making it the largest increase in budget for any space agency in the world. With a history in space exploration as storied as the Soviet Union’s, including the aforementioned voyage of Gagarin’s flight to the moon, and space stations such as MIR, the Russian space program had been dwarfed in recent decades, prompting Putin to up spending in order to “catch up…” to other nations. Roscomos’s ambitions in space are in fact so vast that the Russians plan to have an operational base on the moon in order to launch missions to Mars.
1. United States: $18 billion
No surprise here, as the United States has been the leader in space exploration and budget spent on such exploration since man first had the notion of travelling to the stars. NASA, the American space program, was founded in 1958, and has researched and developed nearly all facets of space exploration since. Although NASA’s budget has actually decreased since 2009, the $18 billion spent by NASA today still leads the globe by a wide margin. Historically, NASA is known for being at the forefront of the development of the Space Shuttle, the Apollo program that landed a man on the Moon, and the Skylab space station. Today, NASA continues to use its budget to further explore the outer reaches of space with missions that see NASA orbiting not only Mercury but also Jupiter and Pluto as well, firmly cementing the agency as the global leader in space exploration.