GCAT: General Catalog of Artificial Space Objects

Jonathan C. McDowell

Space Organizations

The Space Organizations Catalog

GCAT Release 1.1.6 (2020 Sep 25) | Data Update 2020 Nov 26


In catalogs, review papers and databases describing or tabulating artificial satellites, space launches and other astronautical events, it is often necessary or useful to report the country of origin, owner organization, and/or manufacturer of the object of interest. This can be problematic as there is no standard way to refer to a particular organization. Organizations or parts of organizations are frequently sold, merge, or otherwise change their names, potentially concealing continuity in design of their spacecraft.

For my purposes, an `organization' can be any named and spacetime-localized entity including

In this paper I present a scheme - the `Org Code' - for referring to space organizations and a database of such organizations. The scheme and associated database were developed to address this problem for the General Catalog of Artifical Space Objects (GCASO, McDowell 2020 in prep.), but I hope it will be found generally useful as no other comparable public dataset exists. In a forthcoming aricle I will also describe a second database of launch sites and launch pads, which uses a closely related format.

The organizations database generally includes only owner/operator and prime contractors for already-launched spacecraft, stages, stage main propulsion engines, etc., not subsystem level contractors, data analysis organizations, nor (with some exceptions) organizations involved only in missions whose launch is not yet imminent.

Although most documents describe satellite ownership and manufacture at the level of a headquarters parent agency or corporation (NASA, Boeing, Roskosmos, JAXA), I find it more illuminating to follow events at the level of a single operating location - an agency center like NASA-Goddard, or a factory/design organization like McDonnell Douglas/Huntingdon Beach (now Boeing). I assign a short alphanumeric code, the Org Code, to each such operating location.

Below: map showing geographic distribution of all organizations in the database (click for larger version)

The Org Code

Allowed characters

The GCASO Org Code scheme presented here uses a unique string of 1 to 8 characters to refer to an organization. Allowed characters are the digits 0-9, the ASCII upper case letters A to Z, and the dash (minus-sign). Some examples of the Org Code are: I-ESRO, SWRIB, B, 44FA2, IQ223, NASA.

Code and UCode: Organization phases

We want to track the time evolution of an organization as it changes outward identity at the same location. Each change marks the start of a new 'phase' which gets a new Org Code, but also has an associated `` UCode '' (unified code) which is the same for all of the phases (and is usually, but not necessarily, the Org Code of the first phase).

For example, let us consider the Palo Alto, California location of Ford Aerospace. I assign this the UCode FORDA, with a series of phases:

PHLPFORDAPhilco Western Development Labs (WDL)1957-1966
PHFPFORDAPhilco-Ford WDL 1966-1975
FORDPFORDAAeronutronic Ford, WDL 1975 - 1976 Dec
FORDAFORDAFord Aerospace/Palo Alto 1976 Dec - 1990 Oct
LORFORDSpace Systems Loral 1990 Oct - 2012 Nov
SSLFORDAMDA-SSL 2012 Nov - 2017 Oct
SSLMAXFORDAMaxar SSL 2017 Oct -2019 Mar
MAXSSFORDAMaxar Space Solutions 2019 Mar - present

In the organization database each code is paired with a UCode, so that all the codes with a common UCode can be identified. This allows us to understand that there is a historical connection between satellites built by SSL and those whose manufacturer was PHFP.

So, all the 1300 series communications satellites were built by (Ucode) FORDA, but each one can also be tagged with the specific name of the company as it existed at the time of the satellite's launch.

Note that countries can have phases too - the Czech republic is CSSR (1940-1990), CSFR (1990-1993) and CZ (1993-present), sharing the ucode CZ. Note that for countries extant in the early 21st century, the ucode is usually the Internet TLD, e.g. CN like .cn for Zhongguo (China), although the usual single-letter abbreviations have been used for European Union countries e.g. D for Deutschland (Germany), F for France etc. Most two-letter ucodes are countries but there are a few exceptions (LM for Lockheed Martin, for example).

The Database

The database consists of a single table in which each record is an organizational phase with its Org Code. The columns are:

Column NameDescription
Code Org Code for organization in a particular phase (time period)
UCode `unified' Org Code for organization across all time periods
StateCode OrgCode for organzation's host state
Type Organization roles: a slash-separated set of types.
Class Organization class: A, B, C, or D (Nonprofit, commercial, civil or defence)
TStart Calendar date of phase start - e.g. when the org was founded
TStop Calendar date of phase end - e.g. when the org was closed or renamed
ShortName Short name of organization (ASCII, host language)
Name Full name of organization (ASCII, host language)
LocationApproximate location (e.g. city)
LongitudeLongitude of location, deg E
LatitudeLatitude of location, deg N
ErrorError in lon/lat, deg
ParentOrgCode of organization of which this org is a part
ShortENameShort name of organization (ASCII, English)
ENameFull name of organization (ASCII, English)
UNameFull name of organization (Unicode, host language)

The way these columns are used is explained in more detail in the following subsection. First I present a diagram illustrating how the database entries relate the different organizations to one another:

Column details

We can use the mask field to look at the geographic distribution of various types of organization:

Launch vehicle and stage prime contractors:

Payload manufacturers:

Engine manufacturers:


For contemporary satellites and rockets, organizations were largely identified from mission press kits and web sites. For historical missions, archival sources, Aviation Week, Flight International, and Jane's All the World's Aircraft (and Jane's Spaceflight Directory) were useful.

Note: Vague Date Format