Exploring the Final Frontier: An Empirical Analysis of Global Civil Space Proliferation


  • Bryan R. Early is an assistant professor in the Political Science and Public Administration Departments and the Director of the Project on International Security, Commerce, and Economic Statecraft (http://www.albany.edu/pisces/) at the University at Albany, SUNY.
  • Author's notes: A previous version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Peace Science Society. I would like to thank Victor Asal, Matthew Fuhrmann, Sarah Kreps, Rey Koslowski, Kevin M. Morrison, Gregory Nowell, David Rousseau, Christopher Way, and Jessica Weeks for their comments and suggestions on previous drafts. I would also like to thank Nolan Fahrenkopf, Ozlem Savas, and Robert Spice for their research assistance. The replication data and supplementary appendices for this manuscript are available at https://sites.google.com/site/bryanrearly/.


While space capabilities were once concentrated among a handful of leading powers, an increasingly large number of states have gained access to them. As of 2007, 58 countries possessed dedicated civil space programs, 44 countries had placed nationally owned satellites into orbit, and 9 countries had achieved domestic space launch capabilities. To date, however, no systematic inquiries have ever been conducted into which countries acquire space capabilities and why. Within this paper, I develop an explanatory account that explores the capacity-based factors and political motivations that influence countries' acquisition of space capabilities. I test my hypotheses via a quantitative analysis of the factors affecting 143 countries' acquisition of civil space programs, satellite capabilities, and space launch capabilities from 1950 to 2002. My findings shed new light on the primary causes of the proliferation of civil space capabilities and yield a number of important policy implications.