Despite severe economic woes, the Soviet Union spent about $19 billion on its space program between 1986 and 1990 - less than half NASA's total - and plans to spend up to $21 billion over the next four years, a magazine reported Friday.

Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine reported that roughly $12.4 billion of the Soviet space budget between 1991 and 1995 will be devoted to military activity with the rest going to civilian and scientific projects.In contrast, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's budgets from 1986 through 1990 totaled about $51 billion, which does not include the cost of military space activity.

The Soviet figures were provided by Gregori Cherniavsky, chief of the Soviet flight control institute, in an unusually candid talk before the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

While Soviet space spending is increasing slightly over the next few years, Cherniavsky said officials are struggling to find ways to improve efficiency and are even taking advice from a White House advisory panel to NASA that called for tailoring programs to realistic budget projections.

While the Soviets believe they lead the world in rocket propulsion, Cherniavsky said too many different types of launch vehicles are in use and too much secrecy has stifled the space industry, which has underestimated the value of advanced electronics.

But by the middle of the decade, the Soviets hope to have an improved satellite communications system in operation, including an electronic mail system and a sophisticated satellite television system.