SpaceX will launch private citizens into orbit – The Verge

SpaceX will launch private citizens into orbit

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SpaceX is planning to send up to four private citizens into space to take a trip around Earth sometime at the end of 2021 or in early 2022. The spaceflight company announced an agreement on Tuesday with Space Adventures, a space tourism business that has helped seven different private citizens take trips to (and from) the International Space Station aboard Russia’s Soyuz rocket and spacecraft.

Space Adventures said the price of the mission will not be disclosed, and the two companies were light on other details, like what kind of preparation the tourists will have to go through. The companies did say Tuesday that the tourists will fly in the human-rated version of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft and that they will orbit Earth at two to three times the roughly 250-mile height of the ISS.

SpaceX has spent the last few years building and testing out this new version of Dragon as part of a contract with NASA to shuttle astronauts to and from the ISS, after years of using the spacecraft to shuttle cargo to the space station. The private spaceflight company recently completed the second major flight test of the Crew Dragon, as it’s called, which demonstrated the capsule’s ability to escape an exploding rocket.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has teased the idea of space tourism as a business for a few years now, though he’s been overly optimistic about how soon that could happen. The company announced in early 2017 that it had accepted undisclosed payments from two customers for a trip around the Moon using Crew Dragon and the Falcon Heavy rocket. SpaceX said at the time that the trip would happen by the end of 2018. But in September 2018, the company announced that it now intends to send one of those passengers — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — around the Moon using the company’s massive, yet-to-be-built Big Falcon Rocket. (It’s still unclear what happened to the second customer.)

SpaceX has similarly had to delay the first Crew Dragon flight with NASA astronauts as it worked through the process of certifying the spacecraft with NASA. That flight is now supposed to take place later this year.

Other private spaceflight companies are vying to establish the space tourism market. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are in the running, though both of those companies are promising far briefer experiences. Virgin Galactic says it plans to send its first space tourists up later this year where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness in the company’s plane-like spaceship. Blue Origin is promising customers a similar amount of time in space, though in a spacecraft that’s more similar to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. (Both of those tickets cost in the neighborhood of $200,000 a pop.)

While little is known about the newly-announced flight, SpaceX has detailed the inside of the Crew Dragon spacecraft that will ferry the tourists around the Earth. The capsule’s interior is a minimalist affair, with just a few suspended seats and an array of touchscreens. The spacecraft is ringed with windows, though they’re not as large as the ones Blue Origin built into its own capsule. SpaceX has also shown off sleek, custom-designed spacesuits and helmets that Crew Dragon passengers will wear. The suits are less bulky-looking than past designs, but are still pressurized, cooled, and flame resistant. They come with touchscreen compatible gloves, and will lock into the seats for the ride up to space.

Update February 18th, 11:51AM ET: Added new information in the second paragraph from Space Adventures about cost and orbit height.

6 Private Companies That Could Launch Humans Into Space, Space

6 Private Companies That Could Launch Humans Into Space

The era of private spaceflight is breaking new ground with the first test launch of the new Falcon 9 rocket by the company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), which hopes to use the booster to fly its Dragon spaceship on space station trips. And with NASA’s space shuttles retiring this year, SpaceX is not alone in the bid to launch cargo and astronauts into space.

NASA has tapped SpaceX and another company ? Virginia’s Orbital Sciences ? to build unmanned cargo ships to stock up the International Space Station after its final two shuttle missions fly later this year. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is poised to make its first test flight this week.

After that, the agency plans to modify the Lockheed Martin-designed Orion capsule as a space station lifeboat. Aerospace juggernaut Boeing is also hoping to compete for commercial crew capabilities.

But while giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing duke it out, some smaller ? but equally ambitious ? companies have joined SpaceX in the race to build the next spacecraft to put Americans in space. Here’s a look at six companies vying for the future of human spaceflight:

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)

Company: SpaceX
Spaceship Name: Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket|
Founder(s): Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal
Backing: $100 million of Musk?s personal fortune, $20 million more from outside investors
Location: Hawthorne, California
Launched the Business: 2002
Plans to Launch into Space: Debut launch tests in 2010, first operational flights in 2011.

Number of Passengers: 7 maximum, or fewer with a mixture of cargo and crew

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon spacecraft are initially expected to be unmanned vehicles to serve NASA’s cargo needs for the International Space Station. Musk has said Dragon could be ready to launch astronauts within three years of receiving a contract from NASA to do so. The company currently has a $1.6 billion contract to provide 12 unmanned cargo deliveries to the station through 2016.

The Falcon 9 rocket is about 180 feet (57 meters) tall and is a two-stage booster. The Dragon capsule is a solar-powered spacecraft designed to be grappled by the space station’s robotic arm and installed on a docking port.

Company: Orbital Sciences
Spaceship Name: Cygnus and Taurus 2 rocket
Founder(s): David W. Thompson, Bruce W. Ferguson, Scott L. Webster
Backing: Publicly traded company, $1.1 billion in revenue
Location: Dulles, Virginia
Launched the Business: 1982
Plans to Launch into Space: 2011

Number of Passengers: So far, the Cygnus is purely unmanned

A veteran hand when it comes to rocket launches, Orbital Sciences has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to provide eight cargo missions for the International Space Station using its unmanned Cygnus spacecraft and the new Taurus 2 rocket. Orbital is planning the launches in 2011 from Wallops Island in Virginia.

Orbital has not announced plans on whether it may try to convert the Cygnus vehicle for crewed missions. The Taurus 2 rocket stands about 131 feet (40 meters) tall and is a two-stage booster to be topped by the Cygnus spacecraft.

Company: Blue Origin
Spaceship Name: New Shepard
Founder(s): Jeff Bezos
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of
Location: Kent, Washington
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: Mid-2012

Number of Passengers: at least 3 astronauts

Blue Origin has remained extremely secretive about its plans, but has tested a prototype of its New Shepard spacecraft at the company’s proving grounds in Texas. New Shepard is expected to be a vertical launch and landing vehicle capable of reaching an altitude of about 75 miles (120 km) .

Earlier this year, NASA awarded Blue Origin $3.7 million to develop an astronaut escape system and build a composite space capsule prototype as part of its commercial crew program.

Company: Bigelow Aerospace
Spaceship Name: Sundancer and BA-330
Founder(s): Robert Bigelow
Backing: $180 million of his personal fortune as owner of the Budget Suites of America hotel chain.
Location: North Las Vegas, Nevada
Launched the Business: 1999
Plans to Launch into Space: 2015

Number of Passengers: Sundancer to support crews of 3, BA-330 to support 6-person crews

Bigelow Aerospace has been paving new ground in inflatable spacecraft and already launched two mini-space station prototypes, called Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. The company’s larger Sundancer and BA-330 vehicles are expected to serve as space stations, not capsules. Additionally, company founder Robert Bigelow has set his sights on developing a private moon base using the inflatable technology.

Since Bigelow Aerospace does not have rockets or spacecraft to reach its space stations, the company has been working closely with Boeing on potential crew capsules.

Boeing received $18 million from NASA this year to support development of its own 7-person spacecraft.

SpaceDev/Sierra Nevada Corp.

Company: SpaceDev
Spaceship Name: Dream Chaser
Founder: Jim Benson (deceased), now led by Fatih Ozmen
Backing: Sierra Nevada Corp., of Sparks, Nev.
Location: Poway, Calif.
Launched the Business: 1997
Plans to Launch into Space: Under Development

Number of passengers: 4 on suborbital flights, up to 6 for orbital flights.

California-based SpaceDev is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corp. (which acquired it in 2008) and has been developing the reusable Dream Chaser space plane to launch crew and cargo into space at an Atlas 5 rocket.

In February, Sierra Nevada won $20 million in NASA funds to continue the Dream Chaser’s development. The spacecraft’s design is based on the HL-20 lifting body tested by NASA and aims to launch on a rocket and land on a conventional runway, for quick turnaround and reuse.

Company: Virgin Galactic
Spaceship Name: SpaceShipTwo
Founder(s): British Billionaire Sir Richard Branson
Backing: His personal fortune as founder of Virgin Group
Location: London, England, and Spaceport, New Mexico
Launched the Business: 2004
Plans to Launch into Space: end of 2011 or early 2012

Number of Passengers: 6 passengers, 2 pilots

The only air-launched vehicle in the group, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle is still just a suborbital vehicle designed for space tourism jaunts into space. The company envisions launching paying passengers on suborbital thrill rides for about $200,000 per seat. However, the spacecraft’s mother ship ? the huge WhiteKnightTwo aircraft ? could be modified to launch small rockets or satellites for NASA or other users.

SpaceShipTwo is designed by veteran aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and the company he founded, Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif. It is a larger version of SpaceShipOne, which successfully flew on suborbital flights in 2004.

  • Top 10 Fantasy Spaceships Becoming Reality
  • Gallery: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket Photos
  • The Best Manned Spaceships of All Time

Virgin Galactic Plans To Become First Publicly Traded Spaceflight Company: NPR

Virgin Galactic Plans To Become 1st Publicly Traded Spaceflight Company

Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo returns after a test flight in California on Dec. 13, 2018. Billionaire Richard Branson is partnering with a group of investors to take his space tourism company public. Gene Blevins/Reuters hide caption

Virgin Galactic’s space tourism rocket plane SpaceShipTwo returns after a test flight in California on Dec. 13, 2018. Billionaire Richard Branson is partnering with a group of investors to take his space tourism company public.

Updated at 1:49 p.m. ET

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, is preparing to enter the stock market by the end of 2019, through a merger with an existing company.

It would be the first spaceflight company to be publicly owned; Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are both privately held.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 and experienced a significant setback in 2014 when a test flight fatally crashed. But within the past year, the company has successfully taken two crewed spaceflights.


‘An Indescribable Feeling’: Virgin Galactic Makes Historic Trip To Edge Of Space

More than 6o0 people have paid to reserve spots on future commercial flights — putting down a collective $80 million in deposits, according to Virgin Galactic, and on the hook for another $120 million by the time they actually visit space.

But to make those flights a reality, the company needs more funds. Branson was discussing a substantial investment from Saudi Arabia, but he canceled those plans after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Now, a group of investors is working with Branson to take Virgin Galactic public, as an alternative way of raising money.

Those investors have organized into a company called Social Capital Hedosophia, which will merge with Virgin Galactic in order to convert it into a publicly traded company. Chamath Palihapitiya, the CEO of Social Capital Hedosophia, will be the chairman of the combined company; the partnering investors will own up to 49% of the shares.


Space Tourism: To Infinity And . Right Back To Earth

Palihapitiya was an early executive at Facebook. Adam Bain, the former chief operating officer of Twitter, is another major investor in the plan.

By merging with Social Capital Hedosophia, Virgin Galactic will be able to go public without needing to organize an initial public offering.

“We know that millions of people are deeply inspired by human spaceflight, would love to become more involved and, ultimately experience space for themselves,” Branson said in a statement on Monday, before the details of the plan were announced. “By taking Virgin Galactic public, at this advanced point in its development, we can open space to more investors and in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts.”

SpaceX: Facts About Elon Musk s Private Spaceflight Company, Space

SpaceX: Facts About Elon Musk’s Private Spaceflight Company

Reference Article: Facts about SpaceX.

SpaceX is a private spaceflight company that puts satellites into orbit and delivers cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). It was the first private company to send a cargo ship to the ISS, doing so in 2012. The company is working on developing powerful rockets and spacecraft capable of carrying people into space. Founder and CEO Elon Musk said in 2019 that he wanted people to start flying aboard his company’s newest, enormous rocket ship in the next year or so.

Who owns SpaceX?

SpaceX was founded by Musk, a South African-born businessman and entrepreneur. At age 30, Musk made his initial fortune by selling his two successful companies: Zip2, which he sold for $307 million in 1999, and PayPal, which eBay purchased for $1.5 billion in 2002, The New York Times reported. He decided his next major venture would be a privately funded space company.

Initially, Musk had the idea of sending a greenhouse, dubbed the Mars Oasis, to the Red Planet. His goal was to drum up public interest in exploration while also providing a science base on Mars. But the cost ended up being too high, and instead, Musk started a spaceflight company called Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, now based in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, California.

He spent a third of his reported fortune, $100 million, to get SpaceX going. There was skepticism that he would be successful, which persisted into SpaceX’s first years.

After spending 18 months toiling privately on a spacecraft, SpaceX unveiled the craft in 2006 under the name Dragon. Musk reportedly named the spacecraft after “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” a 1960s song from folk group Peter, Paul and Mary. He said he chose the name because critics believed his spaceflight aims were impossible.

SpaceX’s first rocket: Falcon 1

Musk was already an experienced businessman when he started SpaceX, and he strongly believed that more-frequent and more-reliable launches would bring down the cost of exploration. So, he sought out a stable customer that could fund the early development of a rocket: NASA. (Later, he wooed launch clients from various sectors to diversify his customer base.) As such, his goal for SpaceX was to develop the first privately built, liquid-fueled booster to make it into orbit, which he called the Falcon 1.

The company experienced a steep learning curve on the road to orbit. It took four tries to get Falcon 1 flying successfully, with previous attempts derailed by problems such as fuel leaks and a rocket-stage collision. But eventually, Falcon 1 made two successful flights: on Sept. 28, 2008, and July 14, 2009. The 2009 launch also placed the Malaysian RazakSat satellite into orbit.

In 2006, SpaceX received $278 million from NASA under the agency’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration program, which was created to spur the development of systems that could transport cargo commercially to the ISS. The addition of a few more milestones eventually boosted the total contract value to up to $396 million. SpaceX was selected for the program along with Rocketplane Kistler (RpK), but RpK’s contract was terminated with only partial payment after the company failed to meet required milestones.

Multiple companies participated in the COTS program in its early stages, in funded or unfunded contracts. In 2008, NASA awarded two contracts for commercial-resupply services. SpaceX received a contract for 12 flights (worth $1.6 billion), and Orbital Sciences Corp. (now Orbital ATK) received a contract for eight flights (worth $1.9 billion).

SpaceX’s path to the space station

While the funding showed that NASA had confidence in SpaceX’s ability to get a spacecraft ready to transport cargo supplies, the company still had work to do. To get into space with a heavy cargo load, the Dragon spacecraft would require more rocket power than what Falcon 1 could provide. So, SpaceX developed a next-generation rocket, called Falcon 9, to send Dragon into orbit. Falcon 9 would heft much more cargo: 28,991 lbs. (13,150 kilograms) to low Earth orbit, compared to Falcon 1’s capacity of 1,480 lbs. (670 kg). In addition, SpaceX planned to make the rocket self-landing, and therefore reusable, saving on costs.

SpaceX initially hoped to fly the spacecraft by 2008 or 2009, but the development process took years longer than the company thought it would. The maiden flight of Falcon 9 took place on June 4, 2010, with a simulated Dragon payload. The rocket launched successfully, although the landing attempt failed because the parachute didn’t work. SpaceX followed this up by launching the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft together on Dec. 8, 2010. Again, the launch was successful, meeting NASA’s COTS requirements, but the landing of the rocket failed.

The next and most crucial milestone was space station delivery. Dragon, riding a Falcon 9 rocket, delivered its first cargo to the space station in May 2012 under a test flight for the COTS program. The launch was delayed for a few days because of an engine problem, but the rocket lifted off safely on the next try.

Spaceflight observers commended SpaceX’s ability to send a cargo spacecraft to the ISS. Private spaceflight hadn’t even been considered when the space station was developed in the 1980s and ’90s.

SpaceX fulfilled the first of its regular commercial flights to the space station in October 2012. That flight achieved most of its objectives, but it experienced a partial rocket failure during launch. The failure ended up stranding a satellite, Orbcomm-OG2, in an abnormally low orbit, which led to the mission’s failure.

Building bigger and better spacecraft: Falcon 9, Dragon and Falcon Heavy

The initial Falcon Heavy flight, on Feb. 6, 2018, met almost all of its major milestones. Falcon Heavy successfully flew to orbit, carrying a Tesla Roadster (an electric car made by Tesla, another company owned by Musk) and a spacesuited mannequin nicknamed Starman onboard. SpaceX ran a livestream of the launch and the Roadster’s first few hours in space, which attracted attention from all over the world.

The two rocket boosters landed successfully near Kennedy Space Center, as expected, but the core stage hit the ocean at 300 mph (480 km/h), which was too fast, and it didn’t survive the impact. Falcon Heavy then performed an engine burn in space that is expected to bring the Roadster at least as far as Mars’ orbit.

April 2019 saw a setback for SpaceX when a test of the crewed Dragon spacecraft, intended to bring NASA astronauts to space, experienced a malfunction while on the ground. This created a smoke plume visible for miles around Cape Canaveral, Florida. The incident set back the company’s timeline for bringing people to the International Space Station.

SpaceX’s plans for the future, Mars and more

SpaceX has customers from the private sector, military and nongovernmental entities, which pay the company to launch cargo into space. Although SpaceX makes its money from launch services, the company is also focused on developing technology for future space exploration.

And Musk’s dreams of flying to Mars are undimmed. In 2011, he told delegates at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in San Diego that he planned to take people to Mars in 10 to 15 years. Three years later, at the International Space Development Conference, he said the reusable rocket stage would be a step in getting to the Red Planet.

“The reason SpaceX was created was to accelerate development of rocket technology, all for the goal of establishing a self-sustaining, permanent base on Mars,” Musk said at the time. “And I think we’re making some progress in that direction — not as fast as I’d like.”

In 2016, Musk unveiled his technological plan for Martian transport, which is a part of his plan to create a self-sustaining Red Planet colony in the next 50 to 100 years. The Interplanetary Transport System, as the rocket is called, is essentially a larger version of the Falcon 9. The spaceship, however, will be quite a bit larger than the Dragon, as it is slated to carry at least 100 people per flight. (The crewed version of the Dragon for the ISS is expected to carry four people, on average.)

Musk followed up his announcement in 2017 by publishing a paper describing a future Red Planet city of a million people and providing more details about how the ITS would transport cargo and people.

Musk updated his Mars plans in September 2017 in an address in Australia. He didn’t mention the ITS during the talk; instead, he talked about a system called the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR). The spaceship that BFR will carry will be 157.5 feet (48 meters) tall and have 40 cabins for passengers, likely with a capacity of 100 people.

In 2018, Musk announced that Yusaku Maezawa, an artist and billionaire founder of the Japanese e-commerce giant Zozo, and a handful of artists will launch on the BFR on a trip around the moon in the 2020s. SpaceX did not disclose how much Maezawa paid for that trip.

Musk once again unveiled an update to his Mars plans, in September 2019, renaming the first BFR to Starship Mk1 and switching its outer coating from expensive carbon fiber to stainless steel. Photos of the shiny, sci-fi-looking craft being assembled at SpaceX’s South Texas facilities, near the village of Boca Chica, circulated on the internet.

In 2019, Musk and SpaceX ignited controversy in the field of astronomy over the company’s plans to place a constellation of 12,000 small satellites in orbit around the Earth in order to provide reliable internet access to remote places. So far, only 60 of these Starlink satellites have launched but they have already left unsightly trails in astronomers’ telescope observations of the night sky. Many researchers fear that an increased number of satellites will cause problems for vital data-collecting enterprises.

According to a SpaceNews report, SpaceX plans to test out a special coating on the next round of Starlink satellites that could help make them less reflective and, therefore, less obtrusive in the night sky.

Additional resources:

  • You can follow SpaceX on Twitter @SpaceX.
  • Watch videos of SpaceX’s successful and failed launches on the company’s YouTube channel.
  • Check out NASA’s SpaceX blog for the latest news on collaborations between the two entities.

How Private Companies Are Changing The Future Of Space Exploration, On Point

On Point

On Point

How Private Companies Are Changing The Future Of Space Exploration 47:13

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Private companies like SpaceX are testing vehicles for manned space missions. We’ll peer out into the near future and next steps in human space exploration.


Ariel Ekblaw, founder and lead of MIT Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative. (@ariel_ekblaw)

Charles Bolden, NASA administrator from 2009-2017, and a former astronaut and Marine Corps general. (@cboldenjr)

Interview Highlights

American astronaut Christina Koch broke the record for the longest-ever space flight by a woman today. Where is human space exploration going next?

Ariel Ekblaw: “It’s a huge milestone. Part of her story around the spacesuit, and the sizing of the spacesuits, and the all-female spacewalk is something that we pay a lot of attention to at our group at M.I.T. And then being able to be in space for that length of time provides an invaluable sense of knowledge of what is the human lived experience of space.

“How might we better design for her comfort to delight her in space? To now, thanks to standing on the shoulders of groups like NASA and Charlie’s work, think about not just a survivalist mode for space exploration, but what are the artifacts, and the tools, and the experiences that we could design for Christine in the future? Given her experience of this 300-plus-day journey and stay to really delight her for her experience in space exploration. And in the future, scale that to space tourists and others besides astronauts.”

On how close we are to regular space tourism

Ariel Ekblaw: “I would say we’re both close — we’re dangerously close — and yet so far away. So companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are racing to be able to send some of the first space tourists into low Earth orbit on some of their crafts, in either this year, or upcoming years. With Axiom and the announcement from NASA about the first commercial space station to be attached to the International Space Station.

“We’re beginning to build up that infrastructure that could support real space tourism. There are still, as I’m sure Charlie can also speak to, large unanswered questions about how do you prepare someone if not off the street — A space enthusiast — for the experience of space when they’re not necessarily going to have the same in-depth, extensive training as a NASA astronaut? How do we keep them safe? How do we handle mental health? How do we prepare them for both the excitement and the responsibility that they might have as a member of a crew in a resource constrained environment?”

“I would say we’re both close — we’re dangerously close — and yet so far away.”

Ariel Ekblaw, on space tourism

On whether people who aren’t trained as astronauts should be able to go into space

Charles Bolden: “Yes, without a doubt. … They’ve got to have some training. But I would say it depends on what the flight is going to be. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Beth Moses from Virgin Galactic. But Beth would be — she’s not a normal person off the street, because she’s the astronaut training officer at Blue Origin. But Beth had an opportunity to fly, and she didn’t go through years of training. You know, I think there’s some fundamental things that you teach someone about mobility. And, ‘don’t touch that.’ And you let them go.”

On whether it’s possible to go to Mars without commercial interest involved

Ariel Ekblaw: “I think it’s critical to have both. As Charlie and Dava Newman — another colleague of mine — have shown: the path from moon to Mars is going to be a public-private partnership path. And we need the capability that private brings and the inspiration that NASA and that the governments can still bring to the task.”

“The path from moon to Mars is going to be a public-private partnership path.”

On what it’s like to go to space

Charles Bolden: “It’s much more spectacular than the pictures portray. We have great cameras nowadays. They’re better and better than they ever were before, but they just cannot capture what the human eye sees. God’s camera is pretty awesome. The ability to play around with Newton’s law, the fact that, you know, because gravity is overcome by the speed at which you’re going around the planet allows us to seem like we’re floating. And that’s a lot of fun to get to play with. You know, a body at rest stays at rest, a body in motion stays in motion. And for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. It makes all that stuff that you learned in middle school, if you learned it, or if you avoided it, it brings it to life for you. So that’s incredible.”

“It’s much more spectacular than the pictures portray. We have great cameras nowadays. . But they just cannot capture what the human eye sees. God’s camera is pretty awesome.”

From The Reading List

Wall Street Journal: “Space Is Poised for Explosive Growth. Let’s Get It Right.” — “In the 19th century, urban planners wrangled the chaotic metropolises of Paris and New York into “planned cities,” turning warrens of streets into orderly grids, building sewage systems and transit lines, and allowing for new types of architecture, such as apartment buildings. Today, we face a similar inflection point in developing the nearest reaches of space.

“The next decade is set to bring explosive commercial growth and more private industry players to low-earth orbit, the area spanning 100 to 1,240 miles above the planet’s surface. SpaceX has proposed a satellite-based internet, and Planet is growing its fleet of Earth-imaging satellites. NASA plans a transition towards commercial management of the international space station. Several startups are developing low-earth orbit advertisements—logos or other designs, visible in the night sky, made from tiny, reflective satellites. Entrepreneurs are making plans for space hotels.

“Before we let rampant development go unchecked, we should consider how these efforts might conflict with or complement each other. We still have the chance to intentionally design humanity’s first ‘planned orbit.’”

MIT Media Lab: “Democratizing Access to Space” — “The Space Exploration Initiative’s founding mission is to rigorously, vigorously build out the technologies of our sci-fi space future while keeping our innovations and team as open and accessible as possible. When we say we’re ‘democratizing access to space exploration,’ what do we mean? In the context of our blue sky goal — to realize an inclusive, impactful — we approach democratization in four core ways. We are:

“1. Democratizing access by inviting and uniting new disciplines in our creative practice]

“2. Democratizing access by designing space tools, products, and experiences for all of us, not just the pinnacle of human talent embodied by astronauts.

“3. Democratizing access by developing hands-on, widely accessible opportunities to shape the technologies of our space future.

“4. Democratizing access through the celebration of new narratives through which we can tell the story of Space Exploration, writ large.”

The Verge: “This was the decade the commercial spaceflight industry leapt forward” — “Two years into the decade, on May 25th, 2012, a small teardrop-shaped capsule arrived at the International Space Station, packed with cargo and supplies for the crew living on board. Its resupply mission at the ISS wasn’t remarkable, but the vehicle itself was unique: it was a Dragon cargo capsule, owned and operated by a private company called SpaceX.

“Before 2012, only vehicles operated by governments had ever visited the ISS. The Dragon was the first commercial vehicle to dock with the station. The milestone was a crowning achievement for the commercial industry, which has permanently altered the spaceflight sector over the last 10 years.

“This decade, the space industry has seen a shift in the way it does business, with newer players looking to capitalize on different markets and more ambitious projects. The result has been an explosion of growth within the commercial sector. It’s allowing for easier access to space than ever before, with both positive and negative results. Such growth is providing the commercial space industry with lots of momentum coming into the 2020s, but it’s unclear if this pace is something that can be kept up.”

Axios: “NASA’s murky commercial space future” — “NASA’s plans to create a robust economy in low-Earth orbit where private spaceflight companies can flourish could eventually leave the agency’s astronauts stranded on Earth with nowhere to go.

“Why it matters: NASA hopes to play a lead role in developing a private spaceflight economy, including private sector astronauts. The agency sees this as a way to free it up to focus on farther afield goals like bringing humans back to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars.

“But if private industry takes over human spaceflight destinations in low-Earth orbit and funding and political support for NASA missions to the Moon or Mars dissipates, there may be no point in having a government-sponsored human spaceflight program at all.”

This program aired on February 6, 2020.

Private companies are launching a new space race – here s what to expect, The Open University

Private companies are launching a new space race – here’s what to expect

The space race between the USA and Russia started with a beep from the Sputnik satellite exactly 60 years ago (October 4, 1957) and ended with a handshake in space just 18 years later. The handshake was the start of many decades of international collaboration in space. But over the past decade there has been a huge change.

The space environment is no longer the sole preserve of government agencies. Private companies have entered the exploration domain and are propelling the sector forward more vigorously and swiftly than would be the case if left to governments alone.

It could be argued that a new space race has begun, in which private companies are competing against each other and against government organisations. But this time it is driven by a competition for customers rather than the urge to show dominance by being first to achieve a certain goal. So who are the main players and how will they change the science, technology and politics of space exploration?

Put the phrase “private space exploration” into a search engine and a wealth of links emerges. Several have titles such as: “Six private companies that could launch humans into space”, “The world’s top 10 most innovative companies in space” or “10 major players in the private sector space race”. What is immediately apparent is that practically all these companies are based in the US.

There is a big difference between building and launching satellites into low Earth orbit for telecommunications and sending crew and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and beyond. Private companies in several nations have been engaged in the satellite market for many years. Their contributions to the development of non-governmental space exploration has helped to lay the trail for entrepreneurs with the vision and resources to develop their own pathways to space.

Today, several companies in the US are looking very specifically at human spaceflight. The three that are perhaps furthest down the road are SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. The main goals of all three companies is to reduce the cost of access to space – mainly through reuse of launchers and spacecraft – making space accessible to people who are not specially trained astronauts. One thing these companies have in common is the private passion of their chief executives.

SpaceX Crew Dragon docking with the International Space Station. SpaceX

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, a charismatic entrepreneur, engineer, inventor and investor. The ambition of SpaceX is “to revolutionise space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets”. To this end, the company has specialised in the design, manufacture and launch of rockets, providing direct competition to the United Launch Alliance (between Boeing and Lockheed Martin) that had been the contract holder of choice for launch of NASA and Department of Defense rocket launches.

Its success has been spectacular. Having developed the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft, it became the first commercial company to dock a spacecraft at the ISS in 2012. The firm now has a regular run there, carrying cargo. But so far, no astronauts. However, the Falcon Heavy is comparable to the Saturn 5 rocket that launched the Apollo astronauts, and SpaceX has designed its vehicle with a view to sending astronauts to the moon by 2018, and to Mars as early as 2023.

On September 29, Musk refined his plans, announcing the BFR project (which I like to pretend stands for Big F**king Rocket). This would replace the Falcon and Dragon spacecraft – and would not only transport cargo and explorers to the moon and Mars, but could also reduce travel times between cities on Earth. Musk calculates it could take as little as 29 minutes to fly from London to New York.

Whether the company succeeds in sending astronauts to the moon in 2018 remains to be seen. Either way, a lot could be going on then – 2018 is also the year when Blue Origin, founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the technology and retail entrepreneur behind Amazon, aims to launch people to space. But its ambition is different from that of SpaceX. Blue Origin is focusing on achieving commercially available, sub-orbital human spaceflight – targeting the space tourism industry. The company has developed a vertical launch vehicle (New Shepard, after the first American astronaut in space, Alan Shepard) that can reach the 100km altitude used to define where “space” begins. The rocket then descends back to Earth, with the engines firing towards the end of the descent, allowing the spacecraft to land vertically. Test flights with no passengers have made successful demonstrations of the technology. The trip to space and back will take about 10 minutes.

But Blue Origin has got some competition from Virgin Galactic, which describes itself as “the world’s first commercial spaceline”. Founded in 2004 by Richard Branson, also a technology and retail entrepreneur, it plans to carry six passengers at a time into sub-orbital space and give them about six minutes of weightlessness in the course of a two and a half hour flight.

The technology differs from that of SpaceX and Blue Origin in that the launch into space is not from the ground, but from a jet airplane. This mothership flies to an altitude of about 18km (about twice as high as regular aircraft fly) and releases a smaller, rocket-powered spacecraft (SpaceShip Two) which is propelled to an altitude of about 100km. The programme has been delayed by technical difficulties – and then by the tragic loss of pilot Mike Alsbury, when SpaceShip Two exploded in mid-air during a test flight in 2014. No date is yet set for the first passengers to fly.

There’s also the Google Lunar XPrize competition, announced in 2007, with the tagline: “Welcome to the new space race”. The aim of the prize is to launch a robotic mission to the moon, place a lander on the surface and drive 50 metres, sending back high-quality images and video. The competition is still in progress. Five privately funded teams must launch their spacecraft to the moon by the end of 2017.

Powerful international ties

The changes are taking place against a backdrop of tried and tested international collaboration in space, which took off in earnest at the end of the space race. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the US and Russia space programmes complemented each other beautifully – though perhaps not intentionally. Following the cessation of Apollo in 1975, the US space programme focused its efforts on robotic exploration of the solar system.

The Voyager probes gave us amazing images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The Mariner and Viking missions to Mars led to Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Messenger orbited Mercury and Magellan orbited Venus. When New Horizons launched to Pluto in 2006, it was a mission to visit the last planet left unexplored in the solar system.

Pluto as seen by New Horizons. NASA

Russia, on the other hand, pursued the goal of human spaceflight, with its incredibly successful Mir orbiting space station and its programme of flights to transfer cosmonauts and cargo backwards and forwards to Mir. Human spaceflight in the US revived with the Space Shuttle and its mission to build and occupy the International Space Station (ISS). The list of nations that contribute to the ISS continues to grow. The shuttle programme finished in 2011 and, since its successor Orion (built in collaboration with European Space Agency, ESA) is not due to come into service until at least 2023, the international community has been reliant on Russia to keep the ISS fuelled and inhabited.

Today, as well as the US and Russia, there are strong, vibrant and successful space programmes in Europe, Japan, India and China. The European Space Agency was established just two months before the historic handshake of 1975, following many years of independent aeronautical engineering research by individual nations. Similarly, the Chinese, Japanese and Indian space agencies can trace their heritages back to the 1960s. A number of smaller countries including the United Arab Emirates also have ambitious plans.

Of course these countries also compete against each other. There has been widespread speculation that the entry of China into the field was sufficient to introduce a fresh imperative to the US space programme. China has a well-developed space programme and is currently working towards having a space station in orbit around the Earth by about 2020. A prototype, Tiangong-2, has been in space for almost a year, and was occupied by two astronauts (or “taikonauts”) for a month.

China has also had three successful missions to the moon. And its next mission, Chang’e 5, due to launch towards the end of 2017, is designed to bring samples from the moon back to Earth. China also has a declared intent of landing taikonauts on the moon by 2025 – the same time frame in which the US will be testing its new Orion spacecraft in orbit around the moon.

But while there’s an element of competition, the success of the past few decades certainly shows that it is possible to collaborate in space even when tensions rise on the ground. Indeed, space exploration may even act as a buffer zone from international politics, which is surely something worth having. It will be interesting to see how a wider role in space exploration for private companies will affect such international collaborations, especially since so much of the effort is based in the USA.

Healthy competition or dangerous game?

A benefit of the entry of the private sector into space exploration has been recognition of the high-tech companies that contribute to the growth of the economy as valuable targets for investment. Indeed, a recent presentation at an international investment bank – under a heading of “Space; the next investment frontier” – declared that “investment interest has helped reduce launch costs and spur innovation across related industries, opening up a new chapter in the history of the space economy”.

One of the last engagements of Barack Obama’s presidency was to chair the Whitehouse Frontiers Conference, where space exploration was discussed as much within the context of US industry as within the drive to explore new worlds. Contributors to the conference included NASA – but overwhelmingly the speakers were from private technology and investment companies.

Perhaps it is cynical to say – but once investment starts to flow, lawyers won’t be far behind. And that is another aspect of the explosion of interest in space commerce and tourism. Laws, statutes and other regulations are necessary to govern the international nature of space exploration. At the moment, the United Nations, through its Office for Outer Space Affairs, is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space. It also oversees operation of the Outer Space Treaty, which provides a framework for the governance of space and activities that might take place. While the obvious lack of “space police” means that it cannot be practically enforced, it has never actually been violated.

The operation is designed along similar lines to the international treaties that oversee maritime activities and the exploration of Antarctica. This is the closest that there is to international legislation and, since coming into operation in 1967 with the three inaugural signatories of the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the (then) USSR, the treaty has been signed by 106 countries (including China and North Korea). It is necessary to have such controls because although the risks that surround space exploration are high, potential rewards are even higher.

If we look at the way more conventional businesses operate, such as supermarkets, competition drives prices down, and there is little reason to believe that competition between space companies would follow a different model. In which case, greater risks might be taken in order to increase profitability. There is no evidence for this so far – but as the field develops and additional private companies move into space exploration – there will be a higher probability of accident or emergency.

The treaty says that a state launching a probe or satellite is liable to pay compensation for damage when accidents occur. However, the costs of space exploration are astronomical and crippling to poorer countries, making them increasingly depend on commercial launchers. But if a private company launches an object that subsequently causes damage in space, the struggling economy will have to pick up the bill. The treaty may therefore need to be updated to make private companies more liable. There are also serious issues around the safety of astronauts, who have the legal right to a safe existence when in outer space. But even lawyers aren’t sure whether the law does – or should – extend to private astronauts.

Looking to the future, there will be a need for an expanded version of a Civil Aviation Authority, directing and controlling routes, launches and landings on Earth, and between and on planetary bodies. All the safety and security considerations of air and sea travel will pertain to space travel at a vastly enhanced level, because the costs and risks are so much higher. There will have to be firm and well-understood protocols in the event of a spacecraft crashing, or two spacecraft colliding. Not to mention piracy or the possibility of hijack. All this might sound a little gloomy, taking the dash and exhilaration from space exploration, but it will be a necessary development that opens up the era of space travel for citizens beyond those with deep pockets.

The original space race resulted from the ideas and skills of visionary theoretician engineers including: Robert H Goddard, Wernher von Braun, Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky. Is it too far a stretch to think that the second space race is propelled by a new generation of entrepreneurs, including Bezos, Branson and Musk? If this is the situation, then I would hope that the main enabling factor in the pursuit of space endeavours is not possession of wealth, but that vision, ingenuity and a wish for the betterment of human are the main driving forces.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Get to know 4 private spaceflight companies that could be the future

4 private spaceflight companies you need to know about

Almost any space nerd will tell you that the future of the space industry hinges upon private spaceflight.

Of course, almost anyone with an interest in tech and space knows about Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, two heavy-hitters in the commercial spaceflight industry.

But what about the other, less known, less accomplished, yet still important companies out there hoping to leave their marks on spaceflight?

Here are a few of the space companies you should be keeping a close eye on in the future.

Moon Express

Our MX-9 robotic explorer will conduct lunar prospecting & sample return (image: MX-9 with ascending MX-1R.

What do they want to do? In short, Moon Express wants to mine the moon.

The company, which has been around since 2010, just unveiled its plan to launch a mission to the moon by 2020 that will harvest material from the moon and bring it back to Earth.

Before that mission, however, Moon Express plans to launch multiple other missions to the lunar surface in preparation for its prospecting future.

The company’s Lunar Scout mission is designed, in part, to compete for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, to be given to the first private team to land a spacecraft on the moon and perform a series of tasks.

Can they do it? They certainly could! Moon Express has been consistently working toward its lunar goals for years, and they seem to have money and even some government support for their missions. The company has also already won milestone prizes as part of the X Prize competition.

Why haven’t you heard of them? While Moon Express’s mission is pretty sexy, they haven’t yet launched a spacecraft, so coverage of their work tends to be more sporadic.

Relativity Space

What do they want to do? Relatively Space hopes to one day create rockets that will reduce the cost of launching payloads to space.

That goal sounds familiar — *cough* SpaceX, *cough* Blue Origin — but Relativity’s co-founders learned from those two spaceflight giants, taking what they know to a company of their own making.

We got a little more information about Relativity this week when CEO Tim Ellis testified before the Senate science committee.

“We are creating a new launch service for orbital payloads enabled by never-seen-before technologies, allowing for a high degree of launch schedule certainty at significantly reduced cost,” Ellis said in prepared remarks.

“The ability to get back and forth from space inexpensively and on a reliable launch schedule will unleash not only economic opportunities on Earth and beyond, but also push forward humankind’s desire to explore the heavens we have gazed at in wonder for thousands of years.”

Relativity is pretty short on details at the moment, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, expect an announcement about what it is they really want to do.

Can they do it? Who knows! Maybe? We need a little more information about what they want to do before we make a call on that.

Why haven’t you heard of them? Relativity is still in “stealth mode” at the moment, so don’t expect to hear much more about the rocket company until they come out from the shadows.

Virgin Orbit

What do they want to do? It’s good to think of Virgin Orbit as Virgin Galactic’s cool cousin with something to prove.

The company — which was spun off from Virgin Galactic earlier this year — is planning to start launching small satellites for space for companies in the coming years.

Virgin Orbit plans to use their 747-400 carrier aircraft named Cosmic Girl to launch satellites.

“Cosmic Girl will carry LauncherOne to at an altitude of approximately 35,000 feet before release for its rocket-powered flight to orbit,” Virgin Orbit says on its website.

“Starting each mission with an airplane rather than a traditional ground-based launch pad offers performance benefits in terms of payload capacity, but more importantly, air-launch offers an unparalleled level of flexibility.”

Can they do it? Probably! Many industry watchers think that small satellites are the future of commercial spaceflight, so this is a good market to enter into. It all hinges upon whether Virgin Orbit will be able to make its plane-flown launcher work.

Why haven’t you heard of them? Because Virgin Orbit is a pretty new part of Virgin, it makes sense that you haven’t heard much about them yet. Keep an eye out in the future though, they could be going places.

Rocket Lab

What do they want to do? Rocket Lab is another company set on launching small payloads to space for a variety of customers around the world.

The company’s Electron rocket has already flown its first test flight, and while it wasn’t a total success, it did help mission controllers gather more data about what they can do to make it all work perfectly next time.

Rocket Lab already has some high-profile launch customers on the books, including Moon Express, which hopes to use the Electron to launch its first mission to the moon later this year.

Can they do it? Only time will tell. Rocket Lab has a lot of support in the industry, and its focus on small satellites could play to its advantage.

Why haven’t you heard of them? Rocket Lab is relatively new to the launch game, and because it hasn’t yet sent a payload to space for a customer, the company is still flying a bit under the radar.

History of Private Spaceflight Companies

History of Private Spaceflight Companies

While many think of NASA when it comes to spaceflight, the history of private spaceflight companies isn’t as grand, but just as fascinating.

Almost a century ago, the world began to see the emergence of the first private flight companies. Within a matter of decades, people were yearning to fly on planes from Pan Am, Delta, and Continental. Many believed that they would never see that kind of industry develop again.

Prior to the lunar landing, many sci-fi authors had written books where people would use private spaceflight companies to travel from planet to planet. In 1961, an amateur-built satellite called OSCAR-1 made it into space. Within a matter of years, multiple unmanned satellites were brought into space by non-government groups.

After NASA brought men to the moon, it was only a matter of time before the history of private spaceflight companies took off. By the 1980s, a number of companies began looking into space travel.

Space Services Incorporated became the first private spaceflight companies to launch a rocket to space in 1982. By 1984, President Ronald Regan issued out the Commercial Space Launch Act, which encouraged the creation of private spaceflight companies.

The list of accomplishments quickly snowballed into an entire movement. By 1989, Space Services Inc. had launched a second commercially licensed satellite into space. By 1992, Russian company TsSKB-Progress had launched a capsule that delivered gifts to the US via rocked.

By 2000, Russian private space tech company MirCorp made the first manned trip to space that wasn’t government-funded. Since then, a number of other private spaceflight companies have been funded and have sent people into space.

Right now, we’re on the cusp of seeing insane breakthroughs from a number of different companies. Here are some of the groups that are making waves in the history of private spaceflight companies – and where they’re headed in the future.


Private spaceflight company MirCorp currently has satellites in orbit, and has been working with the Russian Federation for decades. It is the company that first landed a commercial lease agreement for space, first had a commercially funded manned launch into space, and also was the company to land first commercially funded spacewalk, space tourist group, and cargo launch.

In other words, this company has a lot of experience in this brand-new industry. MirCorp has had a lot of press for its space tourism successes, including a movie called Orphans of Apollo.

American businessman Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in history thanks to this company. However, despite getting $73 million in backorders, MirCorp was not able to stay in business. That being said, they are credited with sparking the space tourism industry and bringing out the idea of privatizing space flight.

*It’s worth noting that Space Adventures also has claimed to have Dennis Tito as the first man who went into space as a tourist as part of their company. So, at least on Wikipedia, this is a point of contention on the history of private spaceflight companies.

Space Adventures

Space tourism company Space Adventures has become a major player in privatized space flights. It’s been known for sending Dennis Tito into space*, as well as sending major celebrities, top businessmen, and CEOs into space. As of right now, they allow spacewalking, zero gravity excursions, and more.

As of right now, Space Adventures is booking lunar missions for $100 million per seat. They also have done a number of suborbital launches, and has been one of the few companies to regularly launch tourists into space.

Additionally, Space Adventures trained NSYNC member Lance Bass, as well as opera singer Sarah Brightman, on how to survive in space. Yet another cool fact about the history of private spaceflight companies!

Civilian Space eXploration Team

The Civilian Space eXploration Team, also known as CSXT, is actually one of the few private spaceflight companies that is technically comprised of amateurs. The corporate-funded CSXT group has been known to launch rockets since 1995.

This company is credited with the 2004 “GoFast” rocket, which was the first amateur rocket to ever actually break into the space barrier. That’s worth applauding, considering that the entire team is only made of 30 people.

Bigelow Aerospace

Perhaps one of the largest private spaceflight companies out there would have to be Bigelow Aerospace. This company has partnered with major mega-corporations like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to design a number of space capsules that are expected to launch in the near future.

Though one of the voyages was cancelled, the other wasn’t. They’re expected to launch their first manned space flight this year. Their fleet of ships are expected to have as many as six people per flight.

Bigelow Technology also has a number of space stations under its name.

Using inflatable technology, Bigelow Aerospace is also considering making a moonbase within the near future. Should this happen, they will be the very first company to help colonize the moon – a major step in the history of private spaceflight companies.


You can’t really talk about spaceflight without talking about SpaceX, the notorious brainchild of Elon Musk. So far, the company has been funded with about $120 million, with around $100 million coming from Musk’s personal fortune.

The company secured a billion-dollar contract to do a series of unmanned space flights with the US government years ago. A manned flight involving a crew of up to seven people is expected to happen this year with the company’s famous Falcon 9 craft.

Additionally, SpaceX is also currently developing a deep space ship that will be hopefully capable of launching around 100 to 200 people into space. The purpose of this technology, space tourism aside, will be to do interplanetary travel.

Should this interplanetary spaceship succeed, it will be the largest ship to ever go into deep space in the history of private spaceflight companies – as well as the history of space travel as a whole.

SpaceX also is working on reusable launch equipment, meaning that space travel will also end up causing less environmental damage in the future.

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences, also known as Orbital ATK, first created in 1982, might be one of the oldest private spaceflight companies right now. It already has a number of rockets launched into space, including a number of unmanned orbiter satellites.

NASA has provided them with a number of contracts valuing in at almost $2 billion to deliver cargo. They’ve been currently considering updating their Cygnus 2 into a spaceplane.

Orbital ATK has also been credited with the designing and building of a number of rocket launchers and for having incredibly advanced technology. One might say that their tech-savvy team launched Orbital into greatness.

Blue Origin

Another big player in the history of private spaceflight companies is Blue Origin, which has been given contracts by NASA to work on passenger escape system engineering. Much like SpaceX, this privatized company is headed by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.

As of right now, Blue Origin only does unmanned missions. However, they have been working on testing manned flights, and are expected to have their first manned mission into orbit by 2019.

The company also revealed what their suborbital spaceflight technology would be like. So, perhaps we will see some space tourism from this company, too?

Sierra Nevada Corp

This space technology company made history by creating reusable cargo launch systems, thereby making space flight cheaper and also more environmentally-friendly.

Multi-mission aircraft is what they do best, but they’ve also been known to work with orbiter satellites, space surveillance technology, and also were able to contribute to the rockets in Virgin Galactic’s space program.

Virgin Galactic

Yes, the same company that brought you the airline also decided to have a private spaceflight company to expand their travel options! Headed by Richard Branson himself, Virgin Galactic has been working on becoming the first large scale private spaceflight company in the world.

As of right now, they’re currently testing their second spaceship, VSS Unity. They offer astronaut training, and are currently trying to make space flight affordable for the average person.

While it’s a long ways away, we’re all kind of hoping it’ll be a bit cheaper than their current reservation price tag of $250,000. Even so, this is way cheaper than usual when you look at the history of private spaceflight companies.

Space Tourism: 5 Space Companies That Will Make You An Astronaut

Space Tourism: 5 Space Companies That Will Make You An Astronaut

Space Tourism: 5 Space Companies That Will Make You An Astronaut

The concept of space tourism is one of the most exciting emerging features of the wider tourism industry, and companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are already making waves by outlining plans to deliver various forms of commercial spaceflight in the near future. In this article, you will find out more about the space tourism industry, its history, the companies that are most likely to deliver on it, and what the future has in store.

Quick menu:

What is Space Tourism?

Put simply, space tourism refers to the activity of travelling into space for recreational purposes. It is sometimes referred to as citizen space exploration, personal spaceflight, or commercial human spaceflight, and it covers spaceflights which are sub-orbital, orbital, and even beyond Earth orbit.

Some definitions also include hypothetical future spaceflights that are undertaken for business purposes.

A Brief History of Space Tourism

While the concept of space tourism still sounds futuristic, it actually already has an established history. So far, however, the Russian Space Agency is the only company that has successfully facilitated orbital space tourism. This primarily took place in the early 2000s, during which time seven space tourists were taken into space.

The Russian Space Agency ceased its space tourism operations in 2010. Since then, a number of private enterprises have started to pursue space tourism, resulting in various proposals in this area.

5 Space Tourism Companies That Will Make You An Astronaut

The concept of space tourism is growing in popularity all the time, and there are a growing number of businesses engaging in activities within the space tourism industry. For those who are hoping to one day visit space as a private astronaut, the following five companies may offer the best chance of achieving that dream.

1. Virgin Galactic

Part of the wider Virgin Group, the Virgin Galactic space tourism company is aiming to provide regular suborbital spaceflights for paying customers. Its current spaceplane, VSS Unity, entered outer space in December 2018 as part of its testing process, bringing the possibility of regular commercial spaceflights closer.

The company already has an extensive waiting list of people wishing to become space tourists, with an initial deposit of £200,000 required to secure a place on this list. However, Virgin Galactic has not been entirely without issues, including multiple delays and the in-flight loss of its VSS Enterprise spaceplane in 2014.

Video: Space Tourism Company Virgin Galactic In Space For The Second Time

More detailed information about Virgin Galactic, you can read in the article “Virgin Galactic: Information About Virgin Space Flights” .

2. SpaceX

SpaceX are already hugely experienced when it comes to launching space-bound flights and the company is also hoping to get on board the space tourism bandwagon. However, unlike with most other companies operating in this field, they are prioritising lunar tourism and other forms of space tourism extending beyond Earth orbit.

In 2017, the company’s founder, Elon Musk, announced his intentions to send two paying customers on a trip around the moon on an inaugural lunar tourism mission. The mission was initially planned for 2018, but has since been delayed. SpaceX have not yet revealed any pricing strategy or waiting list for lunar trips.

Video: Space Tourism Company SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System

More detailed information about SpaceX, you can read in the article “SpaceX Information: Rockets, Spacecrafts and Spaceflights” .

3. Blue Origin

To date, Blue Origin has been the main competitor for Virgin Galactic in terms of sub-orbital space travel tourism. However, their offering is based around a more traditional rocket, known as the New Shepard, which takes off and lands vertically, and their objectives are to build towards orbital spaceflight.

As with Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company has performed several test flights and is planning to put paying passengers into space soon. However, unlike Virgin Galactic, they have not started taking money for tickets. Their plans involve placing up to six passengers on each flight, with room to perform weightless somersaults.

Video: Space Tourism Company Blue Origin – Millions of People Living and Working in Space

More detailed information about Blue Origin, you can read in the article “Blue Origin: Information About Blue Origin Space Flights” .

4. Orion Span

Finally, Orion Span is a space tourism company in the United States, which announced plans for a private commercial space station, called the Aurora Space Station. This would be placed in low Earth orbit and would effectively function as a space hotel, which would be able to host up to six space tourists at a time.

While the plans are still in the provisional stages, the company has already sold out several months’ worth of hotel reservations. The total cost of a space hotel reservation currently stands at more than £7 million. At present, Orion Span says it is hoping to host its first paying guests at the Aurora Space Station in the year 2022.

Video: Space Tourism Company Orion Span, First Space Hotel

More detailed information about Origin Span, you can read in the article “Orion Span: Information About Orion Span Space Hotel” .

5. Boeing

The Boeing Company emerged as a major player in the space tourism industry when it signed an agreement with NASA as part of their Commercial Crew Development programme. This programme was designed to increase involvement from private sector companies in the production of crew vehicles to be launched into orbit.

As part of the agreement, Boeing started work on the development of a crew capsule, called the Boeing CST-100 Starliner. Crucially, the company’s contract with NASA provides them with the opportunity to sell seats to space tourists, with the idea being that at least one space tourist would participate in each future space mission.

Video: Ride in Boeing Starliner atop a ULA Atlas V in this 360 Launch Experience

Space Tourism Companies That Didn’t Make It

While the five companies above all have interesting proposals – and most have produced promising results through early testing – it is worth remembering that these are not the only companies that have made such plans. Indeed, below, you will find out about several space tourism companies that did not achieve their goals.

1. Galactic Suite Space Resort

Founded in 2007, the Galactic Suite Space Resort was a concept that was originally devised by the Barcelona-based space tourism company, Galactic Suite Design. Much like the aforementioned Aurora Space Station project from Orion Span, it was intended to be a space station that would function as a hotel for space tourists.

The company initially set a goal of 2012 for the first launch, but that was met with widespread scepticism from within the space tourism industry. Ultimately, the company failed to even acquire a rocket system capable of transporting passengers, and the project slowly faded away before being permanently cancelled.

Video: Space Tourism Company Galactic Suite space resort GSSR 3.0

2. The Golden Spike Company

Established in 2010, the Golden Spike Company was a space tourism company set up to provide commercial space travel to the surface of the moon. It originally made the extent of these ambitions known at a press conference in 2012, and the company even had connections with various former NASA employees.

Response to its early announcements was mixed, with some sources claiming they were credible, while others criticised their unrealistic budget estimates. Ultimately, the company failed to gain traction and ceased all serious operations in 2013. The main Golden Spike website was then taken offline two years later.

Video: Space Tourism Company Golden Spike Announcement video

3. XCOR Aerospace

Finally, XCOR Aerospace was one of the first space tourism companies to gain widespread media attention. It had a number of different projects and proposals, but its most famous was the proposed Lynx spacecraft, announced in 2008. This was to be a horizontal take-off spacecraft, which was hoped to be capable of sub-orbital spaceflights.

The company initially expected to roll out a prototype of the spacecraft in 2015, but ran into financial difficulties and began laying off staff the following year. Prototype development of the Lynx vehicle was never completed and XCOR Aerospace eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2017.

Video: Space Tourism Company XCOR Aerospace

How Will Space Tourism Look in the Future?

In the short-term, it is likely that space travel tourism will continue to grow in popularity, and that companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will deliver sub-orbital spaceflight for paying customers. Meanwhile, orbital spaceflight will also be pursued by several enterprises, with Boeing among them.

Looking further ahead, however, interest in the space tourism industry is likely to really take off when space tourism extends beyond Earth orbit, especially if lunar missions become financially and logistically feasible.

With that being said, it is worth pointing out that space tourism is likely to remain extremely expensive for the foreseeable future. It is also physically demanding, which will mean it will only be available to people who pass fitness tests and undergo training programmes in preparation for their flight.

Live Video: Watch the Earth From Nasa Space Station

For most people space tourism is still out of reach. Fortunately, you can already admire the earth from space through the live feeds from Nasa ;).

Video: NASA ISS Live Stream – Earth From Space

Video: Earth From Space Seen From The ISS

Over the course of the next decade, space tourism is likely to become a reality, thanks to companies like Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and Blue Origin, which are all set to offer their own ways for paying customers to travel into space. That, in turn, could eventually lead to further developments, such as lunar tourism and even Mars tourism.

Want to Learn More About Related Industries?

The hospitality industry is part of the travel industry and the hotel industry is part of the hospitality industry. All of these industries have in common that they are large service industries in the world and increasingly important in the modern age. But what is the difference between the travel and tourism industry? And what are all hospitality sectors within the hospitality industry? In the following articles you learn more about related industries.

NASA is Going to Add a Commercial Module to the Space Station – Universe Today

NASA is Going to Add a Commercial Module to the Space Station

NASA’s plan to open up the International Space Station (ISS) to commercial activity is gaining ground. They have a vision for an economy in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) called the Plan for Commercial LEO Development. According to NASA, they intend to foster economic development in LEO and to drive innovation, all for the benefit of the American economy.

Now they’ve selected Axiom Space of Houston to provide a commercial habitation module for the ISS.

NASA’s plan to develop commercial activity in LEO has five elements:

  • Establish a pricing policy for access to the ISS. This will allow private companies to purchase services and resources from the ISS and make it easier for them to build business plans.
  • Starting as early as 2020, allow two short-duration private astronaut stays on the ISS.
  • Plan for the attachment of a commercial module to the ISS, and a free-flying platform in the future.
  • A plan for stimulating demand for commercial activities in LEO.
  • Quantify their own long-term needs in LEO.

Axiom’s commercial module will attach to the Node 2 forward port on the ISS. Node 2 is considered the utility hub on the ISS, because it connects the laboratory modules from the US, the ESA, and JAXA (Japan.) Node 2 is also called “Harmony.”

The new commercial module will attach to the Node 2 Forward via the Pressurized Mating Adapter (PMA). Image Credit: NASA

The module will demonstrate its ability to provide services to commercial actors in LEO and it’ll begin the transition to a sustainable low-Earth orbit economy. NASA and Axiom will negotiate a firm-fixed-price contract with a five-year base performance period and a two-year option.

“Today’s announcement is an exciting and welcome step forward in the efforts to commercialize low-Earth orbit,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “This partnership between NASA and Axiom Space – a Houston, Texas original – illustrates how critically important the International Space Station is, and will continue to be, for developing new technologies for low-Earth orbit and beyond, and for continuing America’s leadership in space. Congratulations to Axiom Space on this exciting award – Houston is known as Space City for a reason, and I look forward to this great Space City company and NASA turning this announcement into reality.”

“Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge.”

Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, Axiom Executive Chairman

Michael Suffredini is a former NASA ISS Program Manager who now works with Axiom. “We appreciate the bold decision on the part of NASA to open up a commercial future in Low Earth Orbit,” Suffredini said in a press release. “This selection is a recognition of the uniquely qualified nature of the Axiom team and our commercial plan to create and support a thriving, sustainable, and American-led LEO ecosystem.

Axiom targets the second half of 2024 for the launch of their module. The module will provide eight crew quarters, and each private berth will be a nest-like cabin with excellent views of Earth and with high-bandwidth communications.

An illustration of one of the crew berths on Axiom’s commercial module. Image Credit: Axiom Space.

Compare the Axiom crew berth with the cramped quarters on the ISS.

The team at Axiom have extensive high-level experience in LEO. In a press release, the company says they have “expertise in human spaceflight management, space systems engineering and operations, utilization of microgravity, space finance, marketing, and law.” All of that expertise positions them well.

“There is a fantastically steep learning curve to human spaceflight,” Suffredini said. “The collective experience at Axiom is quite far along it. Because we know firsthand what works and what doesn’t in LEO, we are innovating in terms of design, engineering, and process while maintaining safety and dramatically lowering costs.”

Axiom’s commercial module is just the start. The company plans to build another space station that can more or less take over from the ISS. They call it the Axiom Station, and this module is just the first part of it. Over time they plan to add other modules onto the first and then detach it from the ISS when the ISS retires. The Axiom Station will be the free-flying platform envisioned in NASA’s plan for a Low-Earth Orbit economy.

Axiom has created an animation showing the entire process at their website.

Axiom says that with their experience, and with all of the advances in technology, they can build their station more cheaply. It’ll also be easier to maintain and ready for upgrades.

The company sees their effort as part of something larger, not just an economic venture. Axiom co-founder Dr. Kam Ghaffarian sees it as a major shift for humanity.

“A commercial platform in Earth orbit is an opportunity to mark a shift in our society similar to that which astronauts undergo when they see the planet from above,” Ghaffarian, Axiom’s executive chairman, said. “Our goal is to advance the state of humanity and human knowledge. I am glad to see the Axiom team, with its advanced human spaceflight, engineering, and operations expertise, recognized for its potential to do just that and build off of ISS.”

“We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

There’s a demand for access to space from nations that can’t afford to build all their own infrastructure. NASA says there are over a dozen countries that want to send their own astronauts to space. There are both scientific and commercial reasons behind the demand, but the demand is there, and according to NASA that demand will only grow.

The ISS will retire, and the Axiom Station will take its place in LEO. For NASA, this marks a key point in their own transition. They’re already using private spaceflight companies to re-supply the station, and soon to transport crews back and forth. Soon, the station itself will be private, and NASA will be a client.

“Axiom’s work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration. It is a similar partnership that this year will return the capability of American astronauts to launch to the space station on American rockets from American soil.”

NASA won’t be leaving the space station business entirely, just evolving beyond LEO. They’re planning their Lunar Gateway, formerly known as the Deep Space Gateway, as the next human stepping stone into space. The Lunar Gateway will orbit the Moon and serve as a staging point for missions to the surface of the Moon, and then to Mars. It’s a joint project between NASA and the ESA, and maybe other partners.