Over the last decade, several private space companies have sprung into existence offering dreams of putting humans into space. And not just professional astronauts. These companies have moved into the commercial sector and are putting abundant resources into establishing real space tourism, that all of us can benefit from. Below is a list of nine private space companies pioneering solutions for getting everyday humans into space.
Not a day goes by without SpaceX being mentioned in the news. Either it’s the prolific CEO Elon Musk tweeting out some spicy new info concerning upcoming projects, or it’s his private space company smashing through a new milestone. At this point, Elon Musk and SpaceX are household names.
SpaceX’s goals are as ambitious as any space colonization advocate can dream of. By the end of the 2020s, SpaceX hopes to have a base of operations on the Moon and a starter colony on Mars.
Alongside a multitude of successful payload delivery missions, SpaceX is currently working on the massive Starship rocket. Starship will eventually replace all SpaceX vehicles and will act as both a suborbital and deep space launch system. Until that is complete, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is currently competing against Boeing’s Starliner to be the first commercial spacecraft to send humans to space.
2. Blue Origin
Founded by Jeff Bezos — who is also the owner of Amazon — Blue Origin is the more caution-approached version of SpaceX.
While SpaceX is constantly in the news for pulling off risky feats of engineering, Blue Origin is a bit more risk-averse. Nonetheless, Jeff Bezos has made his plans for space colonization clear: he is looking to build the framework for increased industrial activity in low-Earth orbit (LEO).
Two of Blue Origin’s primary ongoing projects are their New Shepard and New Glenn rockets.
New Shepard is their first reusable payload launch system. Meant for suborbital flights, it has undergone several successful launch tests so far.
Still under development is Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket, which will eventually be their primary space launch vehicle transporting humans and payloads into orbit.
Next will be the development of their Moon lander, known as Blue Moon.
3. Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic is the commercial space company founded by billionaire Richard Branson. It was founded in 2004, and as of 2019, it became the first commercial spaceflight company to go public on the stock market.
Richard Branson wants to send tourists to the edge of space via a spacecraft called SpaceShipTwo. Tourists paying for this trip will fly high enough to see the curvature of Earth. The entire trip will take about two and a half hours, while the actual time spent in space will be just a few minutes.
Tickets are priced at around $250,000. Hundreds of customers have already purchased tickets.
SpaceShipTwo is a reusable spaceflight system that is first carried high into the atmosphere by a carrier craft called the WhiteKnightTwo. Eventually, Virgin Galactic wants to create a fleet of these spacecraft and dramatically lower the cost to enter space for tourists and scientists alike.
Launches will take place from the privately-owned spaceport aptly named Spaceport America.
4. Spaceport America
Historically, spaceports have been owned and operated by government entities. But now, the private sector is in a position to capitalize on this fundamental element of space travel.
Spaceport America is the first commercial spaceport in the world.
Located in a remote region of New Mexico, Spaceport America is already serving several commercial space customers, including Virgin Galactic and Boeing.
Ongoing contracts with various private space companies mean that Spaceport America will continue acting as the launchpad for future missions. The company also acts as a venue for special events put on by different organizations.
5. Bigelow Aerospace
Humans will need more habitable living areas as people continue entering space, and Bigelow Aerospace is one of the companies leading this charge.
Robert Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace in 1998. Since the year 2000, Bigelow Aerospace has been the sole source of commercial, expandable habitation modules for NASA.
In 2016, the space habitat company successfully flew one of their modules to the International Space Station (ISS) and tested its functionality. All tests showed that Bigelow’s space habitat was human-ready.
After their successful ISS docking, Bigelow Aerospace continued developing its expandable habitation modules with plans to test new models in the 2020s. They even have plans to deploy a Moon-based habitat, called the Lunar Surface Station Module, in the late 2020s.
Unfortunately, as of March 2020, the future of Bigelow Aerospace’s future plans are in question as the COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affected their operations.
6. Space Adventures
Touting itself as the premier private spaceflight company, Space Adventures has been providing spaceflight services to clients since 1998. They provide everything from spaceflight training to spacewalks.
Seven people have already flown in space thanks to Space Adventures, and at least seven more have received spaceflight training from them.
Arguably their most ambitious goal, Space Adventures has been offering tickets for a circumlunar trip for private citizens since 2007. Ticket purchasers will be launched to space using Russian rockets, where they will remain for 10 days. Once they’ve adapted to space, they will begin their journey around the far side of the Moon and back.
For about $100 million, anyone can embark on this trip around the Moon. Although this excursion has been in the works for over a decade, there is yet to be a definitive date for the first mission.
Another project on Space Adventures’ horizon is to send private citizens into LEO. SpaceX has teamed up with the company to provide transportation.
7. Orion Span
Orion Span is a private company looking to build a commercial space station. Once the space station is built, any citizen with a deep enough pocket can stay there for up to 12 days.
Aurora Space Station is the name given to this future LEO establishment.
Aurora Space Station remains Orion Span’s only project at the moment. With an expected deployment date of 2021, Orion Span still needs to acquire a launch partner.
The space station should be able to accommodate up to six people who will need to have paid $9.5 million to travel there.
8. Axiom Space
Yet another company hoping to build their own commercial space station is Axiom Space. It was co-founded by the former Program Manager of the ISS Michael Suffredini.
At the moment, Axiom Space already provides trips to and from the ISS for private citizens. Eventually — as the ISS reaches retirement in 2024 — Axiom Space hopes to take NASA’s space station over and remodel it with their own modules.
As mentioned before, Axiom Space is currently partnered with NASA to expand upon the ISS. In January 2020, NASA officially gave Axiom Space permission to launch their modules to space and connect them with the ISS.
Axiom Space will offer additional services there for both government and private entities alike. Private citizens will be able to experience one of the first space hotels in LEO thanks to Axiom Space.
Similar to SpaceX and Blue Origin, Boeing is one of the leading space service providers. Boeing has multi-decade experience manufacturing space launch equipment for NASA.
Important products include the Delta family of rockets, the X-series spaceplanes, and various satellites and probes.
An important contribution to space tourism projects is Boeing’s Starliner crew capsule. Sometime in the next couple of years, Boeing will commercially launch NASA astronauts to space. This will be a huge milestone for private spaceflight in general.