Main space agencies in the world

At Solar MEMS we specialize in solar sensors for the aerospace sector and we work for some of the largest space agencies worldwide.  Do you want to know which ones?  We’ll tell you about them in this article.

Many governments rely on dedicated space agencies to coordinate activities, policies and investments in the aerospace sector of their countries.  We’ll talk about 10 of the most important agencies worldwide, dividing them into three categories;  the classic ones, the European ones and the emerging ones.

Classic space agencies

Among all the space agencies in the world, some are known to almost everyone, such as NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Space Agency and Jaxa.  Let’s take a look at each one of them.

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, is the US government’s space agency and a world leader in space exploration.  Based in Washington D.C, NASA was founded in 1958 with the goal of taking over the civil (non-military) space program as well as the aerospace and aeronautical research.

According to NASA’s own data, the agency has about 18,000 employees and supports more than 312,000 jobs in the United States alone, without mentioning the large number of suppliers from around the world.  Its annual budget is huge, $ 23.2 billion in 2021.

The achievements of NASA are countless;  among the current investigations the incursion on Mars stands out, as well as on other planets such as Mercury, through the ‘Messenger’ mission, and Júputer and Pluto, through the ‘New Horizons’ mission.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is an intergovernmental organization of 22 European member states. Following a history of collaboration in aerospace technology between the continent’s countries, such as shared satellites, ESA as we know it today was established in 1975 with the goal of exploring space and joining forces and knowledge for a stronger development of the space sector in the European continent.

As we can see from ESA’s own data, the agency employs about 2,200 workers, as well as numerous collaborators, external suppliers and subcontractors. ESA’s annual budget for 2021 is 6.4 billion euros.

According to the agency “ESA’s programs are designed to gain more information about Earth, its immediate space environment, our Solar System and the whole Universe, as well as develop satellite-based technologies and services to promote European industries”, always exclusively for peaceful purposes.

There are dozens of missions that ESA has underway, among which are ‘Artemis’, the most advanced telecommunications satellite in Europe and the ‘Hubble Space Telescope’, built and operated in collaboration with NASA.

The Russian Federal Space Agency is another of the classic and most relevant ones in space history.  Known as Roscosmos, it’s a State corporation responsible for space flights and the cosmonaut program of the Russian Federation.

Based in Moscow and founded in 1992, its personnel and budget data are impressive: 320,000 workers and 1.7 billion dollars in 2020.

The achievements and contributions of this agency to the history of space exploration are numerous.  For example, it’s one of the most involved parties in creating the International Space Station, contributing with the ‘Zarys’ and ‘Zvezda’ modules to the main body of the station, later joined by NASA’s Unity module. Moreover, through the ‘Soyuz TMA spacecraft’, they sent the station’s crew into orbit.

Finally, let’s talk about the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), among the four main agencies worldwide. The Japanese national aerospace and space agency was formed in 2003, after the merging of three previously independent organizations.  JAXA places great emphasis on its philosophy; in 2013, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of its founding, JAXA created the corporate motto “Explore to Realize”, which reflects its management philosophy of “using space and sky to achieve a safe and prosperous society”.

Its headquarters are located in Chofu (Tokyo, Japan) and its annual budget is around 1.71 billion dollars.

JAXA is a very productive agency with a large number of missions in progress, both lunar and interplanetary ones, as well as communication programs, Earth observation, etc.

European space agencies

In addition to ESA, many European countries have their own space agencies, such as France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.

France is the country that contributes the most, on a budget level, to ESA, through its National Center for Space Studies (CNES), a body dependent on the French Government and responsible for space development in that country.

The CNES was founded in 1961, is based in Paris and had a 2.7 billion dollars budget in 2019, an amount that makes it the third largest space agency in the world, only surpassed by NASA and ESA, and with an economical investment superior to the Japanese JAXA.

Germany also has its own national research center for aviation and space flight, the German Space Agency and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).  Originally called AVA, was founded in 1907, and became the DLR as we know it from 1969.

The DLR has its headquarters in Cologne (Germany), and several subsidiaries in other German cities.  8,200 employees work there and in 2017 its budget was 1.2 billion dollars.

The DLR has collaborated on major international projects such as ‘Mars Express’ and the ‘Galileo Project’ among others.

The Italian Space Agency (ASI) is a Rome-based governmental organization created in 1988 to direct and promote Italy’s space activities.

With about 200 employees and a budget of 1 billion dollars, the Italian Space Agency has an important role at European level; Italy is the third country that contributes the most to the European Space Agency (after France and Germany).

ASI also works with NASA and has been part of some very important missions such as the construction and commissioning of the International Space Station.

Finally, at the European level, we find the UK Space Agency (UKSA), British government agency responsible for the civil space program.  It is a young agency created in 2010 with a budget of 414 million dollars for the year 2017/2018

Like the rest of the European space agencies, UKSA has a close relationship with ESA and focuses its efforts on telecommunications and space exploration.

Emerging space agencies

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) is one of the most powerful agencies in the world even though it is not one of the oldest, since its foundation dates back only to 1993. Headquartered in Pakistan, this government-owned organization has one of the largest budgets of them all, with $ 11 billion in 2018.

The CNSA already reached many goals, such as being the first to land on the far side of the Moon in a ‘Chang’e 4’ exploration mission and bringing material back from the Moon with ‘Chang’e 5’, or the creation of the ‘Tiangong Space Station’ in 2021, in an in-house run program unrelated to other space agencies.

Finally, within  the agencies that are acquiring special relevance worldwide we’ll highlight the South African National Space Agency (Sansa), founded only in 2010 although the roots of the South African agency its programs and facilities go back to the past, as far back as the world space race of the 1950’s.

Based in Pretoria, this young government-owned agency focuses on “space’s science, engineering and technology that can promote development, generate human capital and provide important national services” according to its official website.

Sansa’s activities are grouped into four blocks;  Earth observation, space operations, space engineering, and space science.

These 10 space agencies are amidst the main ones worldwide, all run by their respective Governments, increasingly aware of the importance of research and development of new technologies as well as space exploration and the observation of Earth and the Sun.