Space is for everyone.
That’s what we’d love to believe anyway, imagining scenes of multi-national equality aboard the Starship Enterprise.
Humans all around the world rely on the telecommunications satellites that orbit our planet everyday, but only a handful of nations have been able to make their own mark on space.
Since the space age began in 1957, 82 nations have placed satellites in orbit––less than half the 193 member states of the United Nations. Behind that figure lies a harsh and unfortunate truth: space is not yet every culture’s domain. Not even close.
To date, only 37 nations have sent their citizens to space, aboard rockets launched from either the United States, Russia, or China. Only four nations have landed robots on another world that returned usable scientific data. And only the U.S. has set foot on the moon.
Exploring our universe and better understanding the cosmos is humanity’s destiny. As we continue toward these noble goals, this disparity needs to be improved.
Fortunately we’ve seen recent progress in space accessibility, with the total number of spacefaring nations increasing 54 percent in just six years.
54 Percentin justsix years
One factor in the bloom of international space access is a changing economic landscape. As more countries climb the ladder of prosperity, they’re able to afford the cost of building satellites and the costs required to launch them.
Most of those countries have opted to use CubeSats, small and inexpensive satellites that cost about $50,000 to construct and under $100,000 to launch. That’s immensely cheaper than the standard multi-million dollar satellites that launch on multi-million dollar rockets.
But not all first-time nations have gone small.
Bangladesh, a "Least Developed Country" according to UN socioeconomic classification, launched their first communications satellite in 2018 on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for tens of millions less than they might have paid for a solo flight on a traditional launch platform.
So how did Bangladesh afford such an enterprise when their resources don’t come close to those of spacefaring powerhouses like China, Russia, The United States, or the European Space Agency?
What it comes down to is an overall reduction in global launch costs, thanks to the relentless push for rocket reusability led by SpaceX. This reduction, in turn, has forced other launch providers to find ways to scale back customer costs, enabling less prosperous nations to begin their own space programs.
With the pride and stature of being a spacefaring nation comes another advantage: the ability to share their unique identities, traditions, and beliefs with the rest of the world.
Bangladesh's first telecommunications satellite, Bangabandhu-1, is a prime example. It is named after the country's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, known to his people as Bangabandhu — Friend of Bengal.
The SpaceX webcast of Bangabandhu-1’s launch, watched by millions, prominently featured the history and culture of Bangladesh, including a message from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Greeting the global audience after that successful launch, Hasina told the story of how Bangabandhu “realized that without smooth communication with the outside world, desired progress and advancement is not possible.”
And she christened the satellite as Bangladesh's continued “journey on the highway of development."
"Now,we become aproud member of the satellite club."
Another country gaining its foothold in space has been Azerbaijan, with the Azerspace-1 satellite. The first Azerbaijani telecommunications satellite was launched in 2013 and the second in 2018 — both on ride-share missions aboard the European Ariane 5 rocket.
During the launch broadcast, Azerspace-1 was described as
"A new staroverAzerbaijan"
This proliferation of spacefaring nations shows the final frontier can be for everyone. While we still have a long way to go before all nations and cultures of Earth are represented in space, the reduction in global launch costs has led to a dramatic step forward.