Government Space Budgets Surge Despite Global Pandemic

[Excerpt] Government space budgets grew 10 percent in 2020 compared to 2019, demonstrating the highest yearly budget growth since 2009, according to Euroconsult’s Government Space Programs 2020 report, published in December 2020. Global government space budgets totaled $82.5 billion in 2020, and COVID-19 had no visible effect in 2020 as the pandemic occurred with budgets already in place. The 2000s were marked by rapid space budget growth before a flattening in 2010 as public finances came under pressure, due to the global financial crisis as well as defense budgets downcycling. Growth has resumed since 2015, and 2020 represented a historic high for government space budgets. But their sustainability post-COVID remains to be seen.

As the space environment is becoming increasingly crowded, space debris has become an increasing concern amongst both public and private space stakeholders. Human-made debris are largely the result of satellites which have reached end-of-life, objects intentionally released in orbit as part of missions, rocket parts, frozen propellant from propulsion systems as well as fragments resulting from on-orbit collisions and explosions.

In 2020, civil budgets totaled $50.2 billion, 61 percent of total spending, up from their 51 percent share in 2007. Spending was boosted by three factors: more emerging players investing (though signs of this number peaking are becoming apparent, and a drop-off of emerging countries investing in space may become more pronounced post-COVID); more ambitious civil programs by mature powers, particularly exploration and crewed spaceflight; and the lure of increasing the commercial market share for a country’s industry.

Defense space programs are cyclical and dominated by United States spending, totaling $32.4 billion in 2020, an unprecedented 14 percent increase from 2019. The three main defense budget drivers include the current global upcycle phase; the strong emphasis on space security in all leading space nations, with a marked interest in Space Situational Awareness (SSA) by leading and emerging space countries; and a generalized trend of the militarization of space. The space militarization trend is seen in recent Anti-Satellite (ASAT) tests by India and Russia, as well as a number of space-focused defense organizations being established over the past five years, including the Russian Space Forces (2015), China’s PLA Strategic Support Force (2015), the U.S. Space Force (2019), India’s Defence Space Agency (2019), and Japan’s Space Operation Squadron (2020).

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