How much money is spent on space exploration? (Intermediate)

What countries are involved in space exploration? And how much money of the United States Budget, and the top 5 other countries' budgets are being used for space exploration?

Space agencies involved in human space flight are located in the US (NASA), Russia, The European Union (ESA), China, Canada, Japan and India. The US, Russia and China are the only countries to have independently put people in space. India and Japan state that they have the intention of doing this in the coming decades. European and Canadian astronauts fly with NASA, and the Russian Space Agency and are involved in the International Space Station.

You can see the NASA budget over the last 40 or so years here. In 2005 NASA had a budget of $16.2 billion; this includes not only the human spaceflight division, but also other engineering projects, and science funded by NASA. The total federal spending budget in 2005 was on the order of $2 trillion ($2000 billion), making the NASA share 0.8% of the budget. By comparison roughly 19% of the budget was spent on the Military, 21% on Social Security and 8% went to paying interest on the national debt.

The ESA budget for 2005 was 2.98 billion euros (about 3.5 billion dollars), but many European countries also have their own space agencies which are independently funded, so it's not strictly a fair comparison.

ESA and NASA are by far the highest funded agencies. The Russian space agency has an annual budget of $800-900 million dollars (and it's about the same for India), Japan ~1.8 billion, China ~1.2 billion.

To be fair though, we need to compare these numbers to something which tells you about the wealth of the nation - for example the Gross Domestic Product. The CIA world factbook is a great resource for information like that.

  GDP in 2004 Percent spent on space
USA 11.8 trillion 0.14%
Europe 11.7 trillion 0.03% (not inc. individual agencies)
Japan 3.7 trillion 0.05%
China 7.3 trillion 0.02%
Russia 1.4 trillion 0.06%
India 3.3 trillion 0.03%


It's also interesting to work out how much is spent per person:

  Population Space spending per person in 2005
USA 0.3 billion $54
Europe 0.6 billion $5.80 (not inc. indiv agencies)
Japan 0.1 billion $18
China 1.3 billion 92c
Russia 0.1 billion $9
India 1.1 billion 82c

Considering the total budget for the world for space (~25 billion dollars), the total amount spent per person is $3.90 (working on 6.4 billion people), and the percentage of the GDP of the world which is spent on space is roughly 0.05%.

Update by Ann: We've revisited this page in June 2015, so we have some updates to share. Because of the way budgets work, we'll go back in time a little bit and look at the year 2014: that year, NASA had a total budget of about $17.6 billion. As Karen noted above, that doesn't just include human exploration but absolutely everything that NASA does. Overall for 2014, that was 0.5% of the total federal budget, so NASA's overall share of the United States budget has decreased a bit.

As for the other countries listed above, in 2014 the European Space Agency had a budget of about 4.3 billion euros, or $5.51 billion (in US dollars); the Russian Federal Space Agency had a budget of about $5.6 billion; Japan's space agency JAXA was funded at $2.03 billion; China National Space Administration (CNSA) spent about $1.3 billion; and the Indian Space Research Organisation had a budget of about $1.1 billion.

Again, as Karen noted above, there are other contributions to space-related spending in each of these situations, and not all of an agency's spending is focused on space exploration. For instance, private space flight research and development has become a major player in the United States, but that spending isn't captured by the statistics on federal spending via NASA.

Also since Karen's answer, the spaceflight programs of both India and China have really taken off (pun intended!). By 2008, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had sent a non-crewed probe to the moon, known as Chandrayaan-1. In 2013, ISRO launched an orbital mission to Mars, with successful Mars orbit achieved in 2014. This was pulled off with a very small budget of just about $72 million, for the satellite itself and all of the ground tracking and communication infrastructure needed here on Earth. For its part, China has built and launched the Tiangong-1 space station, several crewed and uncrewed Shenzhou missions, and the Chang'e 3 lunar lander and rover.

Page last updated on June 22, 2015, by Ann Martin

About the Author

Karen Masters

Karen Masters

Karen was a graduate student at Cornell from 2000-2005. She went on to work as a researcher in galaxy redshift surveys at Harvard University, and is now on the Faculty at the University of Portsmouth back in her home country of the UK. Her research lately has focused on using the morphology of galaxies to give clues to their formation and evolution. She is the Project Scientist for the Galaxy Zoo project.

Twitter:  @KarenLMasters

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