On 22 December 2015, SpaceX launched its new Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral into low earth orbit. The event would become another turning point in the commercial space industry: the Falcon 9’s first stage rocket engines were propelled back to Cape Canaveral after detaching, where they made the world’s first ever successful landing of an orbital launch rocket.
The landing paves the way for ongoing improvements in rocket reusability technology. This is critical for bringing the cost of space travel down to a feasible amount for commercial entities to partake in.
The business of space is nascent but growing—only a few firms have gotten past the drawing board; even fewer have begun providing commercial services. SpaceX is of course one of them, but its not the only player in town when it comes to NewSpace.
The following are a few firms giving it a run for its money.
Elon Musk isn’t the only dot-com billionaire to set his sights on space. Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin develops spacecraft aimed at providing private individuals access to space. Because why should governments have all the fun?
Like SpaceX, Blue Origin’s ongoing challenge is reducing the cost of space travel while increasing reliability. The company is taking an incremental approach to tackling this goal, transitioning from suborbital to orbital flights with each step of technology development building on its prior work.
The interior the New Shepard’s capsule is 530 cubic feet—more than 10 times the space Alan Shepard had in his Mercury flight. In fact, the inside of the spacecraft is roomy enough to fit six people.
New Shepard soared to an apogee of 339,178 feet or 103 km on its most recent flight on April 2, 2016, restarting its engine for a propulsive landing only 3,600 feet above the ground!
Planetary Resources—formerly Arkyd Astronautics—is an asteroid mining company with a long-term strategy for reeling in mineral payloads from space. The company has begun its exploration and analyses using specialized satellites for finding potential nearby targets.
On July 16, 2015, its Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft was successfully deployed from the International Space Station.
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is a spacecraft manufacturer and so-called “spaceline” developing a range of spacecraft like the SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo. Additionally, it’s designing an orbital launch vehicle designed for the small satellite market called the LauncherOne.
The company employs a staff of 150 inside a 150,000 sq.foot design facility. It’s goal: to democratize space travel.
Celestis is a company that offers space burial—the launching of cremated human remains into space. Samples are carried as a secondary payload on different rockets but only 1 or 7-gram samples of a person’s cremated remains are allowed, as space is at a premium.
Gene Roddenberry and 1960s icon Timothy Leary are a few of its recent customers. Celestis’ most recent mission was completed on November 6, 2015.
Terra Bella—formerly Skybox Imaging—is a Google subsidiary providing commercial Hi-Res Earth observation satellite imagery, HKD video, and analytics services. Terra Bella was named no. 1 on Inc. 2014 25 Most Audacious Companies.
Its sophisticated imaging technologies produce assets that are so high resolution that terrain, vehicles, and shipping containers—objects that impact the global economy—can be easily identified. Use cases for the HD satellite video from SkySat satellites include analyzing the movement of people and goods, shipping routes and patterns, supply chains, industrial plants activity, and more.
Bigelow Aerospace is an American space technology startup that builds expandable space station modules. The company aims to provide a modular set of space habitats for building or expanding space stations. These units are critical to human exploration of space and the discovery of valuable resources, both in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), on the moon, and Mars.
The firm has several pricing options that include a $51.25 million package for spending 60 days on a BA-330 space station. This covers training, transport, and consumables, and everything in between. For $25 million, customers can lease a third of a B330 habitat, roughly 110 cu.m., for 60 days.
Space Adventures is a space tourism company offering orbital space flights to private customers. Some of its services include flights with a space walk option, zero-gravity atmospheric flights, space walk training, astronaut training, and launch tours. Plans include both lunar and sub-orbital space flights.
In short, SpaceX may be the head of the pack for now, but an array of new and existing entrants is slowly gaining ground on the NewSpace pioneer. The preceding 7 companies are just a few of many worthy contenders in the burgeoning industry.