Space Is Big Business

Of the $257 billion spent on space last year, two-thirds came from the private sector


This is part of IEEE Spectrum’s Special Report: Why Mars? Why Now?

Fifty years ago, the space economy consisted almost entirely of a Soviet budget that paid for Sputnik and a second one for a newly formed U.S. agency, NASA. According to Space Report 2009, compiled by the Space Foundation, in Colorado Springs, 13 governments spent US $83 billion last year on space, with the United States accounting for four-fifths of that amount. By itself, NASA outspent the other 12 countries taken together, and the U.S. Department of Defense spent even more—quite a bit more, in fact.

Yet for every dollar governments spent, corporations spent two. A little over half of that commercial spending was on satellite services, mainly direct-to-home television; most of the rest went to infrastructure.

None of that commercial activity would exist if we couldn’t get the satellites up into space, though, and on that score, the Russians, as they were in the late 1950s, are the clear leaders. Of the 106 commercial launches made in the past five years, the erstwhile Soviets accounted for 45.

For more articles, go to Special Report: Why Mars? Why Now?