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Looking over the list of recent launches, I find communication satellites for countries who do not have their own space program. How many different countries operate a satellite as of 2018? Is that number public?

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This list shows all the countries which have, to date, launched satellites - a total of 88. Note that some of these countries no longer exist as a single country (eg. Czechoslovakia), have changed (Soviet Union), are dependencies (Jersey) or are somewhat controversial (Asgardia).

Only 12 countries have natively developed their own launch systems, so all the remaining countries have used foreign or private launch services.

Speculation on non-public launches:

It is very unlikely that any countries have managed to launch orbital payloads in secret on their own due to the obvious problems of trying to hide a rocket launch. However, it seems more possible that a country not on the list has operated a satellite in secret by using a foreign launch provider.

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  • $\begingroup$ The last point is interesting. Might that in fact involve three parties? The secret operator, the launch provider, and the satellite owner? Or would it be two parties, and the secret operator was in fact the owner? It sounds confusing I know. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 22 '18 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh very good question and one I expect we'll never have answered! Imagine if NASA and Roscosmos were secretly spying on each other with their own satellites that they secretly launched for each other. I smell a conspiracy ;) $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 22 '18 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ Well, a practical approach would be to use a foreign company as a cover / middleman. To the world it looks like a domestic launch of a, say, commercial weather/research satellite made by a domestic company, while in fact it's a spy satellite was made by a different country and is operated for their benefit by the shell company. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jun 22 '18 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Also, don't forget satellites sometimes change owners. For a smaller company purchase of an existing, "used" satellite at, say, half the planned lifetime may be more beneficial than launching their own - while the seller launches a new, upgraded one (e.g. moving from analog to digital sat TV). That way a country that never launched, built or commissioned one, becomes an owner/operator of a satellite. $\endgroup$ – SF. Jun 22 '18 at 9:10

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