International Space Activities

International Space Activities


Almost every country in the world is a “space-faring” country in the sense that they use satellites for communications and weather forecasting, and increasingly for satellite navigation and resource management. A smaller number of countries, along with companies and international organizations, own satellites. But the most attention is paid to the few countries with an ability to launch satellites. The following are the launching countries of the world today in the order in which they first placed a satellite into orbit.

Russia (1957)*
United States (1958)
Japan (1970)
China (1970)
European Space Agency (1979)**
India (1980)
Israel (1988)
Iran (2009)
North Korea (2012)

*Formerly the Soviet Union.
** The European Space Agency (ESA) is a multi-national agency that currently has 22 members. Two of its members, France and Britain, launched satellites into space early in the space age (France from 1965-1976, Britain in 1971) as part of their national space programs before joining together with other European countries to build the Ariane launch vehicle. Since neither launches satellites individually today, they are not included in the list above. Ariane launches are conducted by the French company Arianespace. The 22 members of ESA are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Further information about the space activities of most of the non-U.S. launching countries can be found at the websites of their government space agencies. Almost all have English-language websites.

China National Space Administration

European Space Agency

Indian Space Research Organization

Iranian Space Agency

Israel Space Agency

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos)


International cooperation has been a hallmark of NASA’s programs throughout its history. The law that created NASA, the 1958 National Aeronautics and Space Act, included Section 205 that encouraged NASA to cooperate with other countries.  A 2014 report by NASA’s Office of International and Interagency Relations states that NASA has signed over 3,000 international agreements since its inception.  The report, Global Reach: A View of NASA’s International Cooperation, lists international cooperative projects ongoing at NASA at the time of publication.

The majority of NASA space science programs involve international cooperation and the most far-reaching international space program today is the International Space Station. The U.S.-led ISS was built by the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, and 11 members of ESA (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom).   Crews that rotate on roughly 6-month schedules have been living aboard the ISS continuously since November 2000.  The ISS is operated jointly by NASA and its Russian counterpart, Roscosmos, and all the partners utilize its scientific facilities.  NASA’s ISS website provides detailed information on the ISS itself, who is aboard at any given time, and what they are doing.

The Trump Administration was particularly focused on international cooperation in NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon, which is reflected in the update of National Space Policy issued by President Trump on December 9, 2020. The Artemis Accords, developed by NASA and the State Department during the Trump Administration, had been signed by more than 20 countries by the end of 2022. They lay out international principles for a “safe, peaceful and prosperous future” on the Moon.


The Space Foundation publishes The Space Report, which provides information on the space activities of leading spacefaring countries in addition to details U.S. space activities and the global “space economy.”

The European Space Policy Institute is a European think tank that provides “decisionmakers with an independent view and analysis on mid- to long-term issues relevant to the use of space.”  It publishes a variety of reports on international space topics.

The Secure World Foundation promotes cooperative solutions for space sustainability.  It holds symposia in the United States, Europe and elsewhere on topics concerning international space issues and publishes related issue papers that are available on its website.

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