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

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Nov 2 '20 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ You can probably just go down the NROL list en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_NRO_launches $\endgroup$ Nov 4 '20 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
    Nov 4 '20 at 17:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do your restrict your question to satellite in earth orbit? I expect probes going further away to be more expensive. $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Nov 4 '20 at 19:59

It's almost certainly a US mission, as the US spends more on space than any nation, and depending on how you pay attention, NASA missions or spy satellites are the most likely candidates to be that mission. 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 billion
  • 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 upcoming mission that will certainly be more expensive is the JWST, with a cost of around $10 billion.


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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