rocket history
Konstantin Tsiolkovskiy
Hermann Oberth
Robert H. Goddard
Wernher von Braun
Sergei P. Korolev
principles of rocketry
early U.S. rocketry
Nazi Germany’s Space Bomber
postwar U.S. rocketry
Thor, Agena, and Delta
the Titan Launch Vehicle
upper stages of rockets
solid rocket propellants
Orion Project
Russian launch vehicles
launch vehicles of other nations
the Sputnik triumph
early Soviet spaceflight
Mercury space programme
Gemini space programme
Apollo space programme
Soviet race to the Moon
Soviet space stations
Skylab space station
Apollo-Soyuz test
Space Shuttle history
the Challenger Accident
the Columbia Accident
Shuttle launches
Space Station
automated spacecraft
Lunar robotic missions
Inner planet exploration
outer planet exploration
exploring other bodies
return to Mars
solar-terrestrial physics
astronomy from space
Earth observation satellites
meteorological satellites
remote sensing satellites
early warning satellites
intelligence satellites
ballistic missiles
Energia and Khrunichev
commercial satellites
Comsat and Intelsat
International space agencies
Cape Canaveral
Vandenberg Air Base
astronauts and cosmonauts
Scaled Composites
space flight chronology

International space agencies

In the more than four decades since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, dozens of countries have initiated national space programs via government-sponsored space agencies. Fewer countries or international agencies have also developed the ability to launch their own satellites. Such a capability usually indicates a very mature and advanced space industry, and so far, very few countries or international organizations have managed to acquire this status. The ones that have satellite launch vehicles include Russia, the United States, France, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, the European Space Agency (ESA), India, and Israel. One more country, Brazil, is close to having this capability. Of these countries, France and the United Kingdom have given up their indigenous launch capacity (in 1975 and 1971, respectively) and have become active in the European Space Agency.

The Soviet space program used to be run through a complex structure that involved several different ministries, committees, and commissions. Between 1965 and 1991, the so-called Ministry of General Machine Building (MOM) designed and built spacecraft while the Strategic Missile Forces operated all launch vehicles and space vehicles for the government. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia formed the Russian Space Agency (RKA) on February 25, 1992, directly under the Russian Federal Congress. The RKA operates its launchers from Plesetsk in northern Russia and the famous Baikonur launch base in the newly independent country of Kazakhstan. RKA signed a cooperative agreement with ten other newly independent former Soviet republics in December 1991 (the Minsk declaration), to operate assets jointly. RKA recently merged with an aviation supervisory authority and became Rosaviakosmos, which oversees both the civilian aviation and space sector Yuri Koptev has headed it since its formation in 1992. Russian military assets remain under the control of the Russian Military Space Forces (VKS).

Apart from the American and Russian space programs, the most visible space achievements in recent years have been those of China. Since launching its first satellite in 1970, China has steadily expanded its space program, developing a large stable of launch vehicles and communications, weather, scientific, and recoverable satellites. The country appears poised to become the third nation (after the Soviet Union and the United States) to launch a human into space, using its Shen Zhou spacecraft. The Chinese National Space Administration and the China Aerospace Corporation (formerly the Ministry of Aerospace Industry), both established in June 1993, and under the same management, currently manage Chinese civilian space activities. Both share responsibility for policy-formulation and policy implementation. The China Great Wall Industry Corporation handles Chinese commercial activities.

The space agency that has the most frequently used space delivery system is the European Space Agency, an organization created by merging two older international organizations, ESRO and ELDO. The European Space Research Organization (ESRO) was formed by 10 nations (Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and West Germany) on June 14, 1962. In its early years, ESRO designed and built scientific satellites that were launched into orbit by the United States. In parallel, European nations also formed the European Launcher Development Organization (ELDO) on March 29, 1962 to develop an indigenous satellite launch capability. After a series of failures, ELDO and ESRO combined to create ESA on April 30, 1975. By this time, three more countries (Austria, Norway, and Ireland) had joined. Through ESA, Western European countries have developed communications, weather, scientific, and technology satellites and deep space probes. ESA's most famous creation is the Ariane series of launch vehicles, first launched in December 1979. Since then, more than 150 have been launched to deliver payloads into space that belong to many countries and organizations around the world.

Once ESA develops an Ariane launcher, it transfers operational control to a company called Arianespace that offers the rocket for commercial use. French companies have the largest stake in Ariane. By the turn of the millennium, Arianespace had a dominating presence in the international market for commercial satellite launch vehicles. ESA, based in Paris, France, also continues work on more advanced space probes (such as the Huygens probe to Saturn) and new launch vehicles (such as the Italy-led Vega launch vehicle).

Japanese space activities are managed by two separate organizations. The first is the Institute of Space and Astronautical Sciences (ISAS) formed under the aegis of Tokyo University in 1964. ISAS separated from the university and became an independent government-funded organization on April 14, 1981. The second institution is the National Space Development Agency (NASDA), established on October 1, 1969. This was an official federally funded agency aimed at using space to support Japan's national economy. While ISAS focused on space science research, NASDA has typically focused on applications satellites. Both have also developed their own satellite launch vehicles.

ISAS developed a series of small solid propellant rockets in the 1960s. Using one of these, the Lambda L-4S, it launched Japan's first satellite, Ohsumi, into space in 1970. Since then, ISAS has independently developed a large family of solid-propellant launchers that continue to launch scientific and deep space probes. NASDA's first satellite launch was in 1975 using the N-1 rocket derived from the American Delta liquid propellant launch vehicle. NASDA and ISAS are currently testing a new generation of launch vehicles, including the H-II and M-V. Both NASDA and ISAS policies are coordinated via the Japanese government's Space Activities Commission.

India is the only developing country to have its own launch capability. Early Indian space efforts, which began in the 1960s, were consolidated into a single organization known as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on August 15, 1969. Later in 1972, the Indian government set up a Space Commission and assigned its new Department of Space to coordinate national space activities via ISRO. ISRO's first satellite, Aryabhatta, was launched on a Russian rocket in 1975. In 1980, India used its own launch vehicle, the SLV-3, to put the Rohini-1B satellite into orbit, thus becoming the seventh nation in the world to acquire this capability. Since then, ISRO has become even stronger by developing several powerful launch vehicles and applications satellites designed to aid economic and social development. ISRO's commercial operations are handled by Antrix Corp. Ltd., established in November 1992, by ISRO.

The Israeli government established the Israeli Space Agency (ISA) in 1983 as part of the Israeli Defence Forces. The ISA has pursued space activities in cooperation with Tel Aviv University, the National Committee for Space Research of the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and the Israel Aircraft Industries. Israel launched its first satellite, Ofeq, in 1998 using the Shavit solid-propellant booster.

The Brazilian space program was founded by the Group of Organizations of the National Commission of Space Activities (GOCNAE), which was established on August 3, 1961. The Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE) succeeded GOCNAE in October 1990, which is the main institution via which Brazil currently runs its space program. In cooperation with the Agencia Espacial Brasileira (AEB), INPE develops satellites (such as the SCD) and indigenous launch vehicles (such as the VLS).

Several other industrialized and developing nations produce satellites, but unlike the above listed nations, do not have their own launch vehicles. Instead, they procure launch services from the United States, Russia, the ESA, or commercial companies. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.

Five of these nations have major space programs. The French space program, the largest in Europe, is run by the Centre National D'Études Spatiales (CNES), formed in December 1961. The French have a prominent role in the European Space Agency and are a major shareholder in Arianespace. France also builds advanced remote sensing satellites, such as SPOT, for commercial purposes. Two organizations, the part-government-funded German Aerospace Research Establishment (DLR), founded on April 27, 1989, and the fully governmental German Aerospace Agency (DARA), founded on December 24, 1988, manage the German space program. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA), formed on December 14, 1989, manages all Canadian participation in space exploration such as the development of satellites and the robot arm for the Space Shuttle. The Italian Space Agency (ASI) established in 1988 manages Italian space affairs. ASI has a major contribution to the International Space Station and future European launch vehicles. The Ukrainian government formed the National Space Agency of Ukraine (NKAU) on March 2, 1992. Despite a vast space industry infrastructure, the Ukrainian space program has a relatively low profile in the international space market, although it commercially offers its Soviet-era Zenit launch vehicle jointly with Russia.