10 Most Expensive Space Failures



10 Most Expensive Space Failures

Humans have been wanting to explore space ever since they first tilted their heads up and saw stars. Since October 4, 1957 when the Soviets launched Sputnik 1 up into space, we’ve been racing to boldly go where no man has gone before.

In the early days of the “space race”, there were only a few countries able to afford space programs and invent, engineer and develop the technologies needed to escape Earth’s atmosphere. Over time, more countries have begun space programs and collaborated with other countries in contributing both financially and scientifically.

With every great challenge, there’s chance for success and risk of failure; that’s been no different with man’s desire to visit the cosmos.

Let’s take a look at this infographic and learn about the 10 Most Expensive Space Failures and what space initiatives failed and how much it cost which space program.

Most Expensive Space Failure #10:

Japanese H-2A Spy Satellite

$78 Million, 2003

$101.2 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

In 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, LTD operate an H-IIA liquid fueled rocket to launch a spy satellite into orbit. This Japanese spy satellite was intended to monitor North Korea, the rocket malfunctioned at take-off and had to be destroyed.

Most Expensive Space Failure #9:

Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars Rover

$170 Million, 2011

$180.4 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

A Russian Zenit-2SB rocket containing the Phobos-Grunt (translated to Phobos-Ground) Mars rover launched into orbit and experienced problems with one of its burners. This particular rocket burner was to set the rocket on course after entering low Earth orbit, the craft eventually fell back towards Earth and got stuck in orbit until it fell crashing into the Pacific Ocean near Chile in early 2012.

Most Expensive Space Failure #8:

NASA Mars Climate Orbiter

$125 Million, 1999

$179.1 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter in December of 1998, to study climate, atmosphere and surface changes on Mars. Nearly a year into its mission to Mars, the Mars Climate Orbiter was lost in space after entering into orbital insertion. The problem occurred with the computer software when Lockheed Martin and NASA used two different output units; Pounds per Second versus Newtons per Second.

Most Expensive Space Failure #7:

Russian Ekspress AM4 Satellite

$300 Million, 2011

$318.3 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

In August of 2011, the Russian telecommunications satellite was sent into orbit by the Russian Federal Space Agency on behalf of the state owned Russian Satellite Communications Co. The satellite on board was part of a series of GEO satellite communications that would have provided the Antarctic with Broadband data transmission. The rocket which launched from Kazakhstan failed to separate from the satellite and was sent into the wrong orbit.

Most Expensive Space Failure #6:

South Korean Naro-1 Satellite

$385 Million, 2009

$428.3 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

In 2009, the (South) Korean Aerospace Research Institute attempted to launch its first ever satellite rocket. The Naro-1 was to be blasted out into space from the Naro Space Center (Naro island in Goheung) near Seoul.

The South Koreans got their first experiences with rockets when the United States provided defense missiles to help counter-defend against the North Koreans. Despite a decade of experience, the Naro-1’s maiden flight and second attempt failed to reach orbit. A miscalculation in the rocket’s weight prohibited the needed thrust. In the end, their third attempt was a success and the South Koreans entered space!

Most Expensive Space Failure #5:

NASA KySat-1 Satellite

$424 Million, 2011

$449.8 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

The KySat-1 satellite was a Kentucky Space operated satellite which would have provided children in school with the ability to upload and download data, as well as control the camera aboard the satellite to take pictures and send back down to Earth.

The rocket and the spacecraft, which also included the Hermes and Explorer-1 (two of NASAs satellites), failed to separate from one another and carried too much weight to enter orbit. After three minutes it eventually crashed in the southern part of the Pacific Ocean near the Antarctic.

Most Expensive Space Failure #4:

NASA OAO Satellites

$98.5 Million, 1970

$605.8 Million 2015, Inflation Adjusted

The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO) satellites were a series of 4 satellites being launched by NASA between 1966 and 1972. The objective of these satellites were to take high resolution images of objects in space in ultraviolet light waves.

The OAO satellites were not a huge success. The OAO-1 satellite made it into orbit but had a power failure. The OAO-2 satellite was a success and provided a lot of information about comets and hydrogen. The OAO-B booster rocket failed to separate and burned up along with the 38 inch ultraviolet telescope it was carrying upon re-entry. The OAO-3 was the most successful of the satellites and operated until 1981 and took x-ray images of countless stars.

Most Expensive Space Failure #3:

Russian Space Station, Rover and Rocket

$670 Million, 1973

$3.6 Billion 2015, Inflation Adjusted

The Russians had a miserable year in 1973, with multiple failures in their space program and massive financial setbacks. The Salyut Space Station program was a series of components sent up into space to house 4 scientists and 2 military personnel.

The $500 million Salyut 2 (OPS-1) was launched in April of 1973 and would have been the first military space station had it not lost pressure two days after launch and eventually been destroyed. Earlier that same year, the Russians launched their $100 million Lunokhod 2, an unmanned rover sent to the Moon to take high resolution images and relay photos and data back to Earth.

In Mid-May it was speculated that the mission had failed due to dust entering the radiator. Lastly, the photon rocket that launched the Salyut was estimated to have cost nearly $70 million dollars for a combined total of $670 million dollars the Soviets ate that year.

Most Expensive Space Failure #2:

NASA Space Shuttle Challenger

$5.5 Billion, 1986

$11.9 Billion 2015, Inflation Adjusted

One of the saddest moments in the history of the world’s space initiatives was the loss of NASA’s Space Shuttle, the Challenger. In 1986, on its 10th launch, the space shuttle blew up in mid-air 73 seconds after it took off. All seven crew members were killed, this event caused a 2.5 year “grounding” of the space program.

The Challenger was replaced by the Endeavour, which was made from the spare structural parts from the Discovery and the Atlantis when NASA ordered them.

Most Expensive Space Failure #1:

NASA Space Shuttle Columbia

$13 Billion, 2003

$16.86 Billion 2015, Inflation Adjusted

The most expensive space failure was another one of NASA’s Space Shuttles; the Columbia. The Columbia first launched in April of 1981 and completed over 22 years of service, completing 27 missions and participating in countless spacelab missions, Hubble Space Telescope service missions and more.

The Columbia was returning from its 28th mission on February 1, 2003 and disintegrated during re-entry, killing all seven crew members on board. The Columbia had spent over 300 days in space, traveled 125,204,911 miles and carried 160 total crew members.

A hole was punctured in one of the Columbia’s carbon composite wings, the high temperatures of re-entry caused hot gasses to penetrate the interior of the wing and eventually a deadly explosion.


We hope you enjoyed this infographic about the 10 Most Expensive Space Failures, please feel free to share it using the information below.

If you remember any of these sad moments in our world’s space program’s past, please leave a comment and share with us. We’d love to hear them.



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