The 10 countries most active in space
While few countries have the technological capability to operate large-scale missions, a host of ambitious nations are ensuring a competitive field in the race to colonise space. Aerospace-technology.com lists the top ten countries with an active space presence.
Unites States of America
US accounts for approximately one-third of the operational spacecraft currently in orbit around Earth. The Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, Space Shuttle, International Space Station (ISS), Mars Exploration Rover - Opportunity, and Mars rover Curiosity are the cornerstones of the nation's space programme.
The nation launched its first satellite into space in February 1958 and currently operates a large fleet of communications, electronic intelligence, missile detection, weather, technology, navigation, and surveillance satellites. The national space exploration efforts of the country are led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
China owns and manages the second largest fleet of spacecraft in orbit, currently operating several constellations of navigation satellites, remote sensing satellites, communication satellites, surveillance and spacecraft. China is one of three nations with the capability to recover satellites and conductg a manned space flight.
China's major missions include the Tiangong-1 space station, Shenzhou manned space flight programme and the Chinese Lunar Exploration Programme (CLEP). The Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) handles the planning and development of national space programmes,while state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) is the prime contractor responsible for the design and development of launch vehicles and satellites as well as commercial launch services.
The origins of Russian space programme can be traced back to 1957 when the world's first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 was launched by the Soviet Union. The country now operates the third largest fleet of spacecraft including communications, meteorological and reconnaissance satellites.
Projects include Soyuz manned spacecraft, Salyut 1 space station and Lunokhod 1 space rover. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roskosmos) supervises civilian space activities, whereas the Russian Space Forces (VKS) handles defence satellite launches and military flight control assets.
Japan launched its first satellite Osumi into space in February 1970, becoming the fourth nation after the USSR, the US and France to possess indigenous satellite launch capability. It currently operates a fleet of communications, meteorological, earth observation and astronomical observation satellites.
Notable Japanese space programmes are the Japanese Experiment Module (KIBO)-ISS, H-II Transfer Vehicle KOUNOTORI5 (HTV5) and H-II launch vehicle. The national aerospace research and development activities are controlled by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The United Kingdom launched its first satellite Ariel 1 in 1962, making it the third nation after the USSR and the US to launch artificial satellite into orbit. It presently operates large number of satellites including civil and military communications satellites, earth observation satellites, and scientific and exploration spacecraft.
The UK is one of the largest monetary contributors to the European Space Agency (ESA) and participates in advanced science and exploration missions such as BepiColombo, Euclid and ExoMars Rover carried out by the ESA. The United Kingdom Space Agency (UKSA) is responsible for the implementation of national civil space programme.
India has launched more than 80 spacecraft since its maiden satellite launch in 1975. The nation's space research activities are controlled by state-owned Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). India currently operates INSAT and GSAT series communication satellites, earth observation satellites, and IRNSS series navigational satellites.
Dual-use satellites such as TES and Cartosat serve both civilian and military applications, whereas India's first dedicated defence satellite GSAT-7 serves the military. India also executed the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) at a cost of $75m, spending approximately one-tenth of what NASA did on the MAVEN Mars mission.
Canada's debut into space came with the launch of its first satellite Alouette 1 in 1962. It currently operates a fleet of RADARSAT and SCISAT earth observation satellites, ANIK communications satellites, and BRITE science satellites as well as micro and hybrid spacecraft.
The Canadian space programme is controlled by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The nation currently possesses no indigenous launch system, and depends on the US, India and Russia to launch its spacecraft.
The successful launch of Azur satellite in 1969 demonstrated Germany's space-faring capabilities to the world. Germany have launched several spacecraft including telecommunications, navigation and earth observation satellites, and are involved in the core missions such as Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons, European space laboratory Columbus, Dawn - Mission to Vesta and Ceres and the European Galileo navigation system.
The national space programme is implemented by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) which supports the German space industry to meet the strategic goals in the European programmes associated with the ESA and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).
The French space programme constitutes both civil and military space missions and its space policy is implemented by state-owned Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), which is responsible for the development and execution of space programmes alongside industry and the scientific community. The nation's in-orbit spacecraft constitute earth observation and reconnaissance satellites, electronic signals intelligence satellites, civil and military communications satellites.
France is one of the largest contributors to the European Space Agency (ESA) which is headquartered in Paris. The space research and development is carried out at Toulouse Space Centre whereas CNES, ESA and Arianespace conduct launches from the Guiana Space Centre.
Luxembourg operates large number of communications and remote sensing satellites, making it one of the top nations with space existence. It is one of the Member States of ESA and carries space research activities under its National Action Plan for Space R&D. The nation is also home to the headquarters of world's leading telecommunications satellite operators SES (Société Européenne des Satellites) and Intelsat.
The Luxembourg Space Cluster unites highly specialised companies and government research agencies focussing on space telecommunications, global navigation satellite system and location-based services, earth observation, maritime safety and protection, and space technologies.