At this point in the history of space research, we are quite accustomed to new developments and regular activity from NASA, the Russian Space Agency, and the ESA. The latter two being the traditional pioneers of space exploration. But what of the other space programs on planet earth; who are the up and coming players in this rapidly expanding playing field? With that question in mind, here is my list of top 5 rapidly rising space programs.
5 – Korea: The Korea Aerospace Research Institute was only founded in 1989, but didn’t take long to develop its first sattelite – the Arirang-1 and its first rocket the KSR-1. Over the past decade KARI has worked closely with the Russian space program which eventually led to the first Korean living aboard the ISS back in 2008.
4 – Ukraine: Not the most economically powerful nation on the list, the State Space Agency of Ukraine was born after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. By the late 90′s they were cooperating with NASA on manned space missions. In the short time they have existed the SSAU has launched more than 127 rockets and more than 240 satellites.
3 – Japan: If I were to attempt to list the achievements of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) I could fill quite a few pages. Very much the behind the scenes work horse of space research, JAXA has been particularly good with monitoring and observation type space operations. They also run important re-supply missions to the ISS. The only thing they have yet to do is develop their own manned space aircraft, a goal they have set for 2025.
2 -India: Though often referred to as the coolest new kid on the block when it comes to space, the India Space Research Organization has actually been launching satellites and conducting experiments since the 1960′s. In 2008 the ISRO made headlines by launching an unmanned lunar probe. Then last year the government announced they are working on their own Mars exploration mission “Mangalyaan” which is to be launched at the end of this year. Despite their achievements until now and their ambitious plans, over the past decade the program has also suffered 2 accidents involving the loss of two rockets during take-off, casting some doubt as to whether they will reach their goals in the near future.
1 – China: In 2003 China became only the 3rd nation on the planet to launch its own manned space shuttle, the Shenzhou 5, into orbit. Next month they will launch the Shenzhou 10, which is part of the preparation for what will eventually be an independent Chinese space station. Again, making them only the third nation to ever do so (after the US and Russia). They have the technology, they have the resources, and like so many assessments conclude about China these days, the sky’s the limit, only not quite in this context.
Honorable Mention- Brazil: Latin America’s leading nation in terms of space research, Brazil has been successfully launching satellites since 2004. With the development of their own rocket, the VSB-30, the government plans to expand the capabilities and activities of the agency. The Brazilian space agency entered into a joint satellite launching venture back in 2003 with the State Space Agency of the Ukraine. Keep an eye on this program, it’s going places!
Photo: kalai8_blog / flickr