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The Emerging Industry of Private Spaceflight

While the governments of countries are still the major players in spaceflight, today's space race is no longer between nations. Private companies are surging ahead with innovations and partnering with existing space programs to launch their own rockets and ships into space to supply current needs and with the dream of furthering space exploration.

SpaceX has been launching cargo to the ISS and will be following up with manned launches to the space station. Its Dragon capsule can transport seven humans. It was first successfully orbited in December 2010 and made a space station delivery in May 2012. But this California-based company, founded by Elon Musk, has its eyes set on Mars. SpaceX has plans to set up a settlement of possibly 80,000 people on Mars, although the details of those plans are still in the works. But the early plans for the colony involve transparent domes where crops can grow.

SpaceX Dragon
SpaceX Dragon spacecraft

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) is at work on a Dream Chaser spacecraft. The craft looks a lot like the traditional space shuttle orbiter but with uplifted wings. It will be able to carry seven crew and cargo to the ISS. It will be launched upright on an Atlas V, made by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company.

Mars One, a company based in the Netherlands, is planning to send humans to Mars by 2023. There are still some huge holes in their plans, including the fact that they don't have the vehicle to get there or the base for them to live. Neither do they have a plan to bring anyone back to Earth. It would be a one-way ticket in the hopes of a future permanent settlement on the Red Planet.

An organization called Inspiration Mars Foundation has the goal of sending two people to flyby Mars in 2018 in preparation for a future landing. They expect the flyby mission to take 501 days.

Golden Spike has its sights set on the Moon, where it intends to send a pair of astronauts by 2020. Two other companies, Space Adventures, which has already sent seven people into space, and Excalibur Almaz, from the Isle of Man, are looking into doing flybys of the Moon.

Some companies are looking to mine the Moon for water to be used as propellant at interplanetary filling stations. Others want to mine asteroids for water and metals. Perhaps with the recent talk of the atmospheres of the gas giant planets raining diamonds, private companies will target these areas for mining, too.

About a dozen companies are working on landers and rovers to explore places such as the Moon. Astrobotics out of Pennsylvania is one such company that plans to launch with SpaceX in 2015 to land on the Moon and explore with their rover.

Other companies have much more practical, almost down-to-Earth plans for their spaceflight companies. Orbital Sciences has launched one cargo load to the ISS and has more planned. New Zealandís Rocket Lab has launched rockets and is planning to deliver nano-satellites into orbit. Scorpius Space Launch Company is planning to provide space delivery service, having already completed some successful suborbital flights.

The dream of spaceflight may have first been realized by national space programs, but its future surely lies with the private companies and individuals who keep reaching for the stars.

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Author: Kelly Whitt

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