The countries with the most satellites in space

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, January 20, 2015. The unmanned rocket blasted off with a next-generation communications satellite designed to provide cellular-like voice and data services to U.S. military forces around the world. Picture taken using long exposure, looking over the campus of Florida Institute of Technologies in Melbourne, about 40 miles from the launch pad. REUTERS/Michael Brown  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY MILITARY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1EB1L0SXU01

Lift off! Image: REUTERS/Michael Brown

Johnny Wood
Writer, Forum Agenda
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Innovation is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:


More than 1,950 active satellites are currently orbiting Earth, and plenty more could soon be joining them.

Reduced costs and growing competition has seen an increasing number of commercial satellites reaching Earth’s orbit, which – unlike national space programmes – don’t recognize national boundaries.

While some countries continue to view space through a military lens, collaborations such as the International Space Station have brought nations together to push the boundaries of knowledge about the universe.

This spirit of cooperation is also giving rise to a new breed of entrepreneur keen to exploit the untapped potential of the burgeoning space sector.

The new space race

Ambitious private endeavours in development include space mining operations, and programmes allowing fee-paying tourists to experience going beyond Earth’s atmosphere.

Business is also booming for the growing number of private firms offering satellite launch capabilities to private clients and national governments. This has helped the spread of satellite technology to less wealthy countries without space programmes of their own.

The UCS Satellite Database, compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, shows that the United States, as of November 2018, had 830 registered units in orbit. That number almost exceeds the combined total of the rest of the top ten. China follows with 280, and Russia is third with 147.

Image: Statista

Surprisingly, Luxembourg operates more active satellites than large European countries like Germany, Spain and Italy. The principality recently launched the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA), which uses the launch capabilities of industry partners to encourage entrepreneurs to fulfill their commercial space goals.

Satellites owned by companies heavily outnumber those used by the military, which reflects a growing trend of the private sector becoming more involved in space technology.

Have you read?

Bringing governance to the final frontier

The surge in commercial space operations has increased access to satellite services for all, and fuelled a start-up race for new entrants to the market.

But the rush to get more hardware into orbit does have its disadvantages. Orbital debris, or space junk, can drift for many years and is a potential hazard for other satellites. There have been several costly collisions which have resulted in detritus spreading into space.

Another potential problem is radio frequency interference. When satellites are too close to each other and transmitting on the same frequency, communications signals can be distorted or even deliberately jammed.

While a disrupted TV signal may prove inconvenient, lost scientific data or interference with a military satellite could have more serious consequences.

To ensure long-term sustainability of outer space activities, the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) is drawing up best practice guidelines. Firms, governments and policymakers have a duty to improve governance in space, which includes helping the industry realize its huge potential responsibly.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum