Top Space Agencies (Non-Private) of the World

By Devesh Sharma

May 7, 2021
Mark Vande Hei in the internation space station sitting in front of window
NASA astronaut and Expedition 66 Flight Engineer Mark Vande Hei peers at the Earth below from inside the seven-windowed cupola, the International Space Station's window to the world on Feb. 4, 2022. Just outside the cupola is the Soyuz MS-19 crew ship docked to the Rassvet module. Credits: NASA

Humans have always been an avid outer-space explorer

From ancient times they’ve been wondering about stars, and the moon, thinking about reaching up to them.

We always had the thirst for exploration, learning, and the urge to dig out about what’s beyond the Earth. Most of this research was done by astronomers from the ground using telescopes.

This wasn’t easy and reliable, we need to surpass the obstruction of Earth’s atmosphere to have a clear picture of the heavens.

No other thirst or emotion, but a war lead to a revolution.

The space war between America and the Soviets changed everything.

The Cold War Poster. Source:

During the 1960s and 70s, both nations throttled up their space program to conclude who can reach the moon first. This led to a sudden growth in terms of rocket engineering and space technologies.

It inspired many other countries to initiate their Space program as it can be used to improve connectivity and boost space exploration.

Today, a lot of experiments and research are being done by probes and even humans floating in space. These space agencies sure have contributed a lot to humanity.

They make use of their powerful rockets to deliver instruments and experiments to space.

They launch missions and study our world and the universe we live in. Satellites help us with communicating throughout the entire world.

Then we have observatories and outer space telescopes which help us in exploring new worlds and objects throughout our universe and enhance our knowledge of astronomy, cosmology, and astrophysics.

Space agencies become more important because it is also a medium for countries to establish their supremacy as it provides a diplomatic and strategic advantage to the military of the country.

Many countries have a space agency of their own, but there are only a few which are capable of carrying out their missions independently.

Let us look at the top 6 space agencies around the world which work independently to achieve sustainable space goals and benefit humanity.


National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA)

The NASA insignia is one of the agency’s best-known symbols. Credits: NASA

Hardly there would be anyone who doesn’t know about NASA.

It was founded in 1958 by Dwight Eisenhower. This space agency has gone really far away from the others.

General Overview of NASA:

  • Origin – United States
  • Founded on – July 29th, 1958
  • No. of employees – 17,000+
  • 2021 Budget – $23.2 billion 
  • Current active missions – 80+

Today it is the most advanced space organization. NASA is most popularly known for its Apollo missions to the moon. 

Through this mission, they have landed 12 humans on the moon, NASA’s legends are numerous.

It’s currently the most advanced space agency in the entire world and has executed some of the most ambitious missions, and exciting enthusiasts around the world.

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission made it into the world’s headlines by sending an advanced Perseverance rover and flying the Ingenuity helicopter over the extra-terrestrial soil on the Red Planet Mars.

It is also working on its crewed mission to the Moon named ‘Artemis’ and this time they are planning to develop lunar colonies.

Recently, 25th of December 2021, NASA successfully launched its most ambitious mission to date, the James Webb Space Telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope is truly an engineering marvel, and the most expensive – a US$10 billion space telescope mission, aimed to peer deep into the Universe and find answers to some of the fundamental questions about the Universe.

NASA is also engaged in several missions such as – studying climate change, studying the Sun and its origin, searching for life on other planets/moons, studying mars, and preparing humans to colonize Mars, etc.

NASA’s Remarkable Achievements

  • Apollo Mission
  • SkyLab Station
  • International Space Station
  • Space Shuttle program
  • Hubble Space Telescope
  • Juno mission
  • Chandra X-Ray
  • Mars twin rovers (Spirit & Opportunity)
  • Curiosity Rover
  • InSight Mission
  • Perseverance
  • James Webb Space Telescope

Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities (ROSCOSMOS)

Logo of the Russian Federal Space Agency commonly called Roscosmos and abbreviated as FKA and RKA. Credit: Roscosmos

Formerly it was known as the Russian Federal Space Agency (1992) and even before that (before USSR Disintegration) it was known as Soviet Space Program


General Overview of ROSCOSMOS:

  • Origin – Russia
  • Founded in – 1992 (Soviet Space Program was founded in the 1950s)
  • No of employees – 283,000
  • Budget – $2.77 billion (176 billion Rubles, as of 2020 reports) 

It was the first agency to launch a satellite into Earth’s orbit, called Sputnik, and launched the first astronaut – Yuri Gagarin, into space. 

Initially, it used to be very advanced in terms of technology but after the failure of the N1 heavy launcher (a mission launched by the USSR for landing humans on mars natively but failed all 4 test launches), it saw a drastic decline in funding and fell behind NASA.

After the USSR’s disintegration, it got further weakened and NASA got the lead. After the USSR breakup, funds for it declined further and a year later ROSCOSMOS was formed.

Roscosmos is mainly known for its contribution to the International Space Station.

It has good experience in building and maintaining a Space Station because of the Space Station Mir.

Also, after the discontinuation of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, ROSCOSMOS was the only agency to send humans to ISS as they had reliable Soyuz rockets.

But now NASA uses SpaceX’s Falcon 9 for that purpose.

The Space Station Mir operated in low Earth orbit from 1986, by the Soviet Union and later by Russia, until it went into a collision with a supply vessel and crashed into Earth in 2001.

ROSCOSMOS’s Remarkable Achievements 

  • The first human in space
  • First satellite to space
  • First Space Station
  • Soyuz spacecraft
  • Lunokhod moon rover
  • Venera (Venus lander)
  • Energia rockets
  • Buran Spacecraft

European Space Agency (ESA)

European Space Agency's logo
The emblem seal logo of the European Space Agency was created in May 2021. Credits: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) is a common space agency for 22 European countries.

It was originally founded in 1975 but the emergence of the space program in Western Europe started as early as the 1950s.

General Overview of the European Space Agency (ESA):

  • Origin – European Union
  • Founded on – 30th May 1975
  • No. of employees – 2200
  • Budget – $8 billion (€6.49 billion, as of 2020 reports)

To make the presence of Europe in the space race, a meeting was attended by scientific representatives from eight countries.

They decided to have two agencies: one concerned with developing a launch system, the European Launch Development Organization (ELDO), and the precursor of the European Space Agency – the European Space Research Organization (ESRO). They finally merged to form ESA in 1975.

From the start, they had an objective to study Earth and other planets deeply.

They also launched the first high-altitude space telescope to study various asteroids and comets.

They have also contributed to NASA’s first Space Station SkyLab and now they are a substantial contributor to the International Space Station, frequently sending astronauts to the orbital complex.

ESA is most popularly known for its Cassini program.

Its Huygens probe landed on one of the moons of Saturn, Titan in 2005, and discovered rivers of Hydrocarbon on it.


Rosetta’s mission to study Comet 67-P is also a milestone for ESA.

Its James-Webb space telescope is the most awaited mission which is going to be launched in 2020.

European Space Agency’s Remarkable Achievements 

  • Rosetta & Philae lander
  • Cluster II
  • Cassini
  • Envisat
  • Herschel Space Observatory
  • Mars Express
  • Rosetta
  • Hubble Space Telescope(Contributor)

China National Space Administration (CNSA)

CNSA's logo

The Space program of China is directed by China National Space Administration.

Its roots can be found in the 1950s but after the launch of the first satellite to space by Russia, the Communist Party of China decided to match up with these Super Powers and launched Project 581.

General Overview of CNSA:

  • Origin – China
  • Founded on – April 22nd, 1993
  • No. of employees – 100,000 – 120,000 (the actual number might differ from speculations)
  • Budget – $11 billion (as of 2018 reports)

Its objective was to place a satellite in orbit by 1959. CNSA never had a primary objective of its own initiative.

They were just trying to compete with the two space giants of the time.

When the moon race between America and USSR started, China didn’t just want to watch the game but also to be an active part of the new era of space.

They started their own crewed space program which turned out a success in 2003 and joined the trio of launching humans to space.

Now they had a wide perspective on space exploration.

They are preparing for humans to send to the moon and then to Mars.

It’s also the most hated space agency in the world.

NASA even prohibited its employees and engineers to work with CNSA for security reasons.

But the actual story is that American companies provided China with their commercial satellites and ended up improving Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile technology.

NASA feared that China can use such technology for nefarious purposes.

CNSA is also working on some ambitious missions such as building its own Space Station named Tiangong Space Station. It has already launched one of its modules in space on the 29th of April, 2021.

CNSA is also focusing on various robotic missions to the moon and mars.

Recently its moon mission named Change 5 launched on the 23rd of November, 2020 brought back the samples of Lunar soil on the 16th of December.

It has also launched its Mars mission named Tianwen-1 which carries a rover along with it and will land in May 2021.

China is aiming to send humans to the Moon as it wants to keep up with the others.


CNSA’s Remarkable Achievements

  • Shenzhou spacecraft
  • Long March Launcher series
  • Tiangong 2
  • Change-3 moon lander
  • Yutu Moon rover
  • Change 4
  • Change 5

Indian Space Research Organizations (ISRO)

Indian Space Research Organization Logo

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is an Indian space agency, founded in 1969 by Vikram Sarabhai.

This space agency has never been lacking to amaze the world with its work. ISRO is famous for launching satellites and probes even though having a relatively small yearly budget.

General Overview of ISRO:

  • Origin – India
  • Founded on – 15th August 1969
  • Number of employees – 17,100
  • Budget – $2 billion (2021-2022)

They are especially known for their efficiency and accuracy.

ISRO has amazed the entire world by executing missions while staying drastically cheap with a budget, even less than some Hollywood movies’ budgets. Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is a well-known example of this.

They sent a Mars probe named Mangalyaan to the red planet Mars on their very first attempt and that too with a budget of just $73 million (almost one-fifth the cost of launching the Maven satellite to Mars by NASA).

The main motive of the ISRO is to harness space technology for national development.

They have also launched 104 satellites at once with its PSLV –C38 rocket which was a world record until 2021.

Now, this title belongs to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 as they launched 143 satellites at once on 24 January 2021.

ISRO’s Chandrayaan mission is said to be the first to discover water on the moon (though there is still a controversy over the credit for the discovery between ISRO and NASA).

Their Chandrayaan 2 was a partial success as it couldn’t land the descent module successfully, though they are trying to achieve it through Chandrayaan 3 mission.

One of the main features of this agency is that it develops its technology.

They have their rockets, boosters, engines, satellites, etc.

ISRO is now working on sending humans to space and they will do it by 2022 while marking 75 years of the country’s independence.

By doing this, India will become the fourth country to have the capability of sending humans to space.

They have also made their prototype of the space shuttle for Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) and successfully tested it.


ISRO’s Remarkable Achievements

  • GSLV MK3 D2
  • Chandrayaan
  • Mangalyaan
  • ISRO Crew module prototype (CARE)
  • IRNSS (India’s navigation system)
  • GSLV MK3
  • PSLV C38 launch
  • Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-1)
  • RLV

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

JAXA's logo

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is the space agency of Japan. It is probably the fastest emerging space agency since it was formed in 2003.

Well, space activities were already active before this agency in 1969, and it was the merger of three government institutions induced in space-related activities.

General Overview of JAXA:

  • Origin – Japan
  • Founded on – 1st October 2003
  • Number of employees – 1,545 (as of 2016 reports, it doesn’t include private staff and research graduates)
  • Annual Budget – $4.14 billion (446 billion yen)

They sent astronauts to ISS with the help of NASA and installed a Kibo laboratory along with a robotic arm on ISS. Hayabusa is the most popular mission of JAXA.

They launched a spacecraft to an asteroid named 25143 Itokawa and tried to deploy the detachable MINERVA lander which failed to reach the asteroid’s surface but the Hayabusa itself landed on the asteroid successfully in November 2005.

Hayabusa 2 is yet another successful mission where they brought back rock samples from asteroid 162173 Ryugu.

Selenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) or Kaguya is the first successful lunar mission by JAXA, in which they deployed a 2,914 kg Spacecraft into lunar orbit.

JAXA’s Remarkable Achievements

  • Kibo Space lab
  • Hayabusa
  • Hayabusa 2
  • Kibo laboratory
  • Hinode (SOLAR-B)
  • H-IIA Launch vehicle

Besides these big 6 organizations, there are many other space programs in different countries such as France, Germany, Canada, UAE, et cetera, but most of them carry out their missions by collaborating with these 6  space agencies we mentioned above.

The future of space exploration is bright, who knows we might have to leave the Earth to survive amid the really uncertain universe, you never know what’s coming up.

For this reason, many private organizations have come up, and are carrying out their commercial space programs as well.

You might already be familiar with SpaceX, it is a private company that has developed orbital-class rockets which are capable of flying humans to space which is pretty remarkable considering that the company gets almost no funding from the government at all.

The man behind SpaceX – Elon Musk, dreams about colonizing Mars with the help of his massive rocket ‘Starship’, which is crazy and impressive at the same time.

Besides SpaceX, there is also Blue Origin, a company owned by Jeff Bezos who is also trying to build an orbital-class rocket named New Glenn to set up a lunar base on the moon.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a successful sub-orbital class rocket that can facilitate space tourism.

The future of Space is for sure very bright.

Further Reading & References