5 Tiny Countries With Big Space Dreams


On Jan. 9, 2012, the world's only Grand Duchy (a land ruled by a grand duke or a grand duchess) successfully launched its second home-built satellite into space, when VesselSat2 climbed to polar orbit from the Chinese Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre aboard a Chinese Long March 4B rocket. VesselSat1 had ridden to equatorial orbit on an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) the previous October. The 62-pound (28-kilogram) microsatellites will be used as part of ORBCOMM's Automatic Identification System (AIS) for monitoring shipping (see sidebar).

The constitutional monarchy is no stranger to collaboration. When you're nestled amid France, Germany and Belgium, and you're tinier than Rhode Island (998 square miles, or 2,586 square kilometers), you learn the value of having powerful friends. Perhaps that's why in 1957, Luxembourg became one of the six founding countries of the European Economic Community (later the European Union), and joined the European Space Agency (ESA) as its 17th member in 2005.

The home to half a million Luxembourgers has carried on a dalliance with satellites since 1985, when it began playing host to Europe's first private satellite operator, Société Européenne des Satellites (SES). The company -- which, as of January 2012, owned and operated a fleet of 49 geostationary craft -- helped give rise to the local space industry. Luxembourg's Space Cluster coordinates public and private space-related interests for the sake of building a diverse economy.

Historically, Luxembourg has benefited from a small, but stable, high-income economy known for reliable growth, low inflation and low unemployment.

For our final entry, we move from a landlocked nation to one of the busiest ports in the world.