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Which were the most expensive Earth satellites in the 2010s? Say first 3 or 5.

Zuma satellite (lost) was $3.5 billion, was any other satellite more expensive?

Excepting the Space Shuttle which is a launcher becoming satellite for a short time.

I am asking for only a decade to avoid inflation adjusted numbers

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    $\begingroup$ Space Shuttle Atlantis was a satellite of the Earth twice in the 2010s. The shuttle programs is famous for needing several digits to count the billions spent. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ You can probably just go down the NROL list en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NRO_launches $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ @SE-stopfiringthegoodguys In fairness, the shuttles didn't cause that much individually, it was more of a fact that they did a whole lot of launches. Still, there is something there to say, no doubt. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ Do your restrict your question to satellite in earth orbit? I expect probes going further away to be more expensive. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 19:59

2 Answers 2

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It's almost certainly a US mission, or possibly a European one, as the US spends more on space than any nation. Depending on how you pay attention, NASA missions or spy satellites are the most likely candidates to be that mission, plus any hugely expensive ESA missions. So let's take a look at those categories. Note that I'm looking for missions that are the most expensive by categories, often not explained, but...

NASA missions:

  • Curiosity- \$2.5 billion
  • No space telescopes of any note launched.
  • Parker Solar Probe- \$1.5 billion
  • Rosetta- 1.5 billion Euros
  • Tranquility ISS module- \$400 million
  • JUNO- \$1.1 billion

So for NASA, it seems the most expensive mission launched in the 2010s was Curiosity.

As for spy satellites, well, that's a bit trickier. Those spacecraft aren't known for certain what they cost, but there are estimates out there. Candidates include:

So I would guess that pretty much any KH-11 satellite, such as USAA-224, is the most expensive payload of the 2010s, with an estimated cost of $6.35 billion. Of course, all of the latter missions being classified makes it really difficult to estimate the price.

Lastly, The James Webb Space Telescope cost an estimated 10 billion dollars, and was launched in late 2021, making it the most expensive satellite of the decade so far.

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  • $\begingroup$ Rossetta was not a NASA mission. Your statement in that case is unclear, because you said, "NASA missions" and then listed a European one. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2022 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. Will edit to update that. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Commented Oct 12, 2022 at 12:40
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The most expensive satellite over this time period is the International Space Station, costing NASA 3-4 billions every year. And since there are over a dozen other countries also involved, this most likely works out to at least $50 billion over the decade.

That is without any of the launch and assembly costs, mostly happening before 2010. The ISS is unique in that it has an operational cost that is significant compared to its initial launch, putting it in its own class.

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