Space missions are never cheap, but the costs of some are especially high. In this list, we are going to review the most expensive missions in history and describe what their role has been in the space race.
More than six decades have passed since the Sputnik 1 mission, the first to put a human-made object into orbit. It was the first step of the space race, and since then we have sent hundreds of probes, satellites, and spacecraft into space, in addition to numerous human beings.
We are increasingly aware that space exploration and related sciences are extremely important to humanity. In fact, our day-to-day life would be drastically different without space missions.
And it is to this type of mission that we owe telecommunications satellites, advances in medicine, and of course, a large part of our knowledge about the formation of the universe, our solar system, and even life on our planet
There is no doubt that space missions are valuable in various ways. Not only have space agencies seen their potential, but various companies dedicated to space have emerged in recent years.
We could say that in most cases, the knowledge we have gained from these missions is invaluable. And although it is totally true, all those missions, not surprisingly, cost money.
It is not something that is often talked about frequently since what is really important in any mission is that they meet as many objectives as possible and that there are no casualties, especially if there are astronauts involved.
But even if it’s just out of curiosity, you may be interested to know how much money is invested in a space mission. Costs vary greatly, but as a general rule, they are always in the millions.
In this list, we are going to review the most expensive space missions in history. You may not expect some of the ones on the list, although without a doubt, what will surprise you the most is the price of any of them.
It is perhaps somewhat ironic, but the most expensive mission in history is not a program for scientific or exploratory purposes of any kind. The Space Shuttle Program NASA was dedicated to the transport of persons and material.
And this transportation service cost NASA a whopping $ 209 billion. It is by far the most expensive program to date. Even missions to the Moon, Mars, or the far reaches of the solar system have not cost so much.
There are several reasons why the Space Shuttle program ended up being so extremely expensive. Some parts of the ships were not reusable, forcing them to rebuild after each launch.
And also the design of the equipment was so old that purchasing compatible parts greatly increased the cost, because they had to be purchased from very specific manufacturers. And since it was barely modernized during its years of operation, costs were not reduced.
Although it served to meet the needs of the moment, this program never enjoyed many fans, not even among those who worked at NASA or on the project itself.
Eventually, the program was canceled in 2011, and since then NASA has mainly used Russian rockets for its missions. Although they are currently developing a similar program, and although it is not yet operational, the estimated costs are also very high.
As a detail, the Space Shuttle program is not only the most expensive but also the program in which the most astronauts have died. This is due to the failure of the Challenger and Columbia ferries, which cost 14 people their lives.
That this mission is especially expensive should not surprise anyone, especially considering that it is a habitable station that has been orbiting Earth for years. As its name indicates, it is a project carried out by several countries, and its cost amounts to 160,000 million dollars.
Fortunately, and unlike the Space Shuttle program, the cost of the International Space Station (ISS) was not borne by a single country. Expenses were divided among several agencies from different countries, making the project somewhat more affordable.
NASA provided $ 59 billion, Russia $ 12 billion, ESA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency each provided $ 5 billion, Canada provided $ 2 billion …
It is currently the most expensive structure that humanity has built, inside or outside the limits of our planet. And its maintenance is not cheap either. But as it happened with its construction, the expenses are borne by different space agencies.
It mainly works as a laboratory, since it allows experiments from numerous scientific fields to be carried out in a unique environment. For example, the ISS allows us to study how microgravity environments affect humans.
However, it seems that scientific missions are no longer the main objective of the International Space Station since NASA has decided to start accepting commercial missions of any kind for the economic benefit it can bring.
Although the Moon is not too far from us, at least on a cosmic scale, getting humans to its surface was not at all an easy task, and even less so when the available technology was not even remotely advanced as the current one.
Not only was it technically complex, but it also required considerable investment. In the 1960s, the Apollo Program cost around $ 25.4 billion, which adjusted for current inflation would amount to about $ 152 billion.
Of course, the best-known mission of the Apollo Program is that of Apollo 11, which in 1969 got Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong to step on the Moon. But after Apollo 11 there were six more missions within the program that brought humans back to the terrestrial satellite.
In addition, prior to the first landing, there were also other launches and test trips, which while not intended to reach the Moon, were crucial in ensuring that everything would work properly in the main missions.
In general, sending astronauts into space is quite expensive, and added to the technical difficulties involved, it is not surprising that the cost is so high. But the Apollo Program allowed bringing numerous samples of the Moon that the scientific community has been able to study in-depth.
The International Space Station was not the first habitat that humans sent into space. During the 1970s, the USSR had several projects in which space stations were developed.
The main one was the Salyut Program, which managed to put several functional space stations into orbit. Of all of them, the most expensive was Salyut 6. If we adjust its price to current inflation, the price of the Salyut 6 station amounts to more than $ 28 billion.
This space station stood out among the others not only for its price. He introduced novel systems and helped define some important points in the design of space stations that would later influence the design of the International Space Station.
For example, Salyut 6 was the first space station to have two docking ports instead of just one. This allowed crews to be aboard the station, with their own ship in one of the ports, and other ships to make sporadic visits for different purposes.
Habitable areas were also improved with this station. For the first time, astronauts had a specific sleeping area, shower and gym to combat muscle and bone degeneration suffered in space.
Global Positioning System, the guide of our day to day
The satellites are one of the most practical inventions for humanity that have arisen thanks to the space race. We owe them, for example, the telecommunications system we currently use.
And even if we are not fully aware of it, there is another satellite system that we use very frequently: the Global Positioning System, better known as GPS.
Currently, the GPS satellite network is made up of 33 satellites. The system has been available to the civilian population since the 1980s and has become the most widely used geolocation system globally.
Some of the satellites were launched in the 1970s, but the system has been progressively modernized to adapt to new technologies and user needs.
Thanks to this, we have detailed maps and geolocation almost anywhere on the planet.
In total, the program in charge of making the GPS system a reality cost $ 12 billion initially, and its maintenance amounts to about $ 750 million each year.
It is certainly an expensive program, but it is very useful in numerous ways. Not only does it have a military or civil uses, but it is also practical for geology and other fields of science.
Astronomy has numerous tools on Earth that allow us to study the space around our planet, and also explore the limits of the known universe. Telescopes and radio telescopes are becoming more powerful, and allow extremely detailed observations.
But the atmosphere, pollution of various kinds, and a number of other factors greatly affect the image and signal quality that we can obtain from Earth’s surface. This distortion is impossible to avoid if we look at space from Earth’s surface.
For this reason, space telescopes are an essential tool for astronomy. And one of the best known is undoubtedly the Hubble telescope, which this year celebrates its thirty anniversary in operation.
Since its launch, Hubble has cost NASA around $ 10 billion. It is currently operational (although it increasingly requires more maintenance), and unless it suffers a catastrophic error, it will continue working at least until June 2021.
Strictly speaking, it could continue working until after the year 2030. But every year in space they have taken its toll, and some of its sensors lack precision or have stopped working. For that reason, various space agencies are building telescopes that will take over from it is not too long.
Precisely, another of the most expensive space missions in history is the future relay of the Hubble telescope. Maintaining Hubble is becoming more expensive and more complex, and the best solution has turned out to be to build a new, more powerful telescope.
For this reason, NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency have joined forces to create the James Webb Space Telescope. It is not yet finished and has suffered numerous delays, but the final estimated cost is estimated at $ 9.6 billion.
In addition, NASA recently retired another of its best space telescopes, the Spitzer, and James Webb will also have to cover the tasks it was carrying out. But strictly speaking, James Webb is not just a substitute.
Logically, being a more modern telescope than Hubble and Spitzer, their observation instruments will be much more powerful than those of older telescopes. And his first observations will be focused on the far reaches of the universe, so we probably get truly amazing images and data from him.
The James Webb is also an infrared telescope (unlike Hubble, which was an optical telescope). Infrared astronomical observation is very sensitive and is tremendously affected by any source of infrared radiation.
This radiation comes literally from any heat source: from the Sun or the Earth’s surface to the human body. So the best place for astronomical infrared observations is in space, where at least the telescope will be able to get away from some of the heat sources.
If not further delayed, the James Webb Telescope will be launched into space in late March 2021. A few days later, it will reach its target orbit and begin making the first observations of the universe.
The GPS system has been working efficiently for many years, but that does not mean that it cannot be improved or has limitations. With that in mind, a few years ago ESA developed the Galileo Program, a constellation of geolocation satellites.
Despite being under European control, it works globally, just like the GPS system. And in fact, its signal is compatible with the GPS signal, so every time we use geolocation systems and apps we are also using Galileo’s services.
The Galileo system has been operating since 2016. It has 24 functional satellites and several in reserve. In recent years, more satellites have been added to the network, thus expanding coverage.
In addition to day-to-day geolocation services for users, the signal has improved considerably in areas that previously had limited signal. And it has greatly reduced the time it takes to locate emergency signals, making rescues much faster.
Based on 2013 estimates, Galileo cost around € 6.3 billion. However, there have been subsequent expenses, so the figures could be higher. Having multiple GPS satellite systems may seem redundant, but Galileo allows Europe to operate independently of US regulations and standards.
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