|Mike Melvill and SpaceShipOne|
Of course, Space Adventures was the company that started the space tourism with Dennis Tito the International Space Station in 2001.
Masten Space Systems competed with Armadillo Aerospace in the Lunar Lander Challenge. They managed to win the level 2 prize. Now they are pursuing reusable suborbital launch rockets demonstrating VTVL technology. NASA has long used sounding rockets for research since the V-2 rocket. Those were single use rockets. NASA has been experimenting with these reusable rockets from both Armadillo and Masten in the last couple of years to present. The benefits of such vehicles are obvious. They supply multiple missions. I think of Masten and Armadillo as a type of rocket company that is contracted by other rocket and/or space companies rather than catering to the public. These guys seem small, but they are not to be underestimated. Once they mature the technology, space will never be the same.
Of all these space companies, one really is in a league of their own. Bigelow Aerospace makes inflatable space stations. They started in 1999. Their design was based on some inflatable space modules ideas from NASA. In 2006 and 2007, they launched two test modules that were successful, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Now NASA has bought a small inflatable module to attach to the ISS and taken up there by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.
What's next for space competition? There a current competition, the Google Lunar X-Prize. This started in 2007. Watch these competitors. The idea is to put a rover or probe on the surface of the moon. Yes, commercial space is looking at the moon even if NASA is not. If all goes according to pattern, one or two teams will spearhead through and land taking the prize. Then contracts will emerge from NASA and other space companies.
|NASA Administrator Bolden congratulating Musk after COTS demo|
Now for two humble space companies. In 1998, UP Aerospace was founded. Their launch vehicle is a small suborbital rocket. They have scored some NASA and DOD contracts. They have been launching from Spaceport America in New Mexico since 2006. In 1977 the concept of an all volunteer lighter than air company was imagined. Out of that meeting came JP Aerospace. It may be the oldest commercial space company that was not part of the establishment. They have launched many balloon missions to the edge of space. They have even launched some rockets from their balloons. Their ultimate goal is to create a ground to orbit system using airships and a lither than air station. It sounds wacky, but to me it seems more plausible than the space elevator concept. To their credit, JP Aerospace made and flew the highest dirigible ever to fly called the Tandem in 2011.
Well, that's the start of the New Commercial Space. It started with just dreams and private money and now NASA is helping out here and there. New companies are still being made and the market is likely to grow. Deep Space Industries wants to mine asteroids; Golden Spike wants to sell you a ticket to the moon; and Stratolaunch wants to air launch medium sized rockets. These were formed in 2011 and 2012. This is history in the making. This is rocket science and rocket business. I don't know which is more daunting.