Nearly All Satellites Are Owned by These 25 Companies and Agencies

The Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957. Throughout the 1960s and during the Cold War, space was a testing ground for government-funded satellites sent by the Soviets and the United States. Private companies did not begin launching satellites in earnest until the 1990s, and it has proved to be a lucrative endeavor. (Not all Russian space launches were successful. This was one of the worst soviet space disasters.)

To Identify the organizations that own the most satellites, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the Satellite Database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy organization. We listed the 25 government agencies and private companies that own or operate the most satellites. The database, which includes listings of 5,465 satellites currently in orbit around Earth, was last updated on May 1, 2022. It should be noted that many of the satellites are double counted as they are joint operations and are counted for each agency or corporation in the operation. 

For decades, American government policy was that only NASA was permitted to launch satellites into space. But private industry has always been involved in America’s space program, with private companies contracted to build NASA-launched satellites, many used for communications purposes. (These are the largest spacecrafts to crash back to Earth.)

Ronald Reagan’s presidency ushered in a wave of deregulation, and part of that was a law passed in 1984 that allowed private companies to launch satellites on their own. Since then, private companies have ferried cargo to the International Space Station, and some have plans to send robotic probes to the moon and mine asteroids for metals.

Of the 25 entities or our list that own the most satellites, 12 are from the United States. Eight of these are commercial enterprises, including Spire Global, Swarm Technologies, Planet Labs, and Elon Musk’s Space X. That company plans to launch Starship, a fully reusable spacecraft designed to carry both crew and cargo, on its maiden flight, possibly on April 17, weather permitting.

Click here to see the 25 companies and agencies that own the most satellites.

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