Who Will Actually Be The First To Get Commercial Passengers Into Space?
While tech companies generally leap onto every frontier of innovation they possibly can, the emergent space race, in which a host of privately-owned companies have begun vying for dominance in the emerging sector of private aerospace, has remained relatively quiet. Sure, a few very cash-heavy and very powerful companies have entered the fold, but the world is now gearing up for a future where the commercial and tourist opportunities that lie in space are going to expand well beyond the reach of NASA alone.
And yet, the market has remained relatively uncluttered, with just a few companies establishing themselves as the front runners to help expand humanities horizons beyond the atmosphere. But who's going to be the first to each benchmark? These are the companies vying to take your business out into orbit, how they plan on doing so, and most importantly, when.
An important distinction lies in the realm of commercial spaceflight, and that's whether or not new space-going technology is going to be used for getting humans themselves to new places in our Solar System, or simply expanding commercial opportunities on the ground. Elon Musk's SpaceX, right now at least, seems to be focusing on both.
SpaceX has established itself as the true pioneer of re-usable propulsion technology, and the ability it's created to manufacture a modular system for different uses will have massive ramifications down the line. Musk himself has said SpaceX wants to be among the first to put a human on Mars.
But for now, alongside announcing that they'll be blasting at least one tourist to the Moon in preparation for this around the year 2023, SpaceX will first be using its tech to establish itself as a commercial force on Earth.
They just announced they're going to be commencing commercial flights in 2021, with the first mission likely to be something like putting a telecommunications satellite into orbit, while they'll also be planning to provide their Falcon 9 Rocket and Dragon II module for private tourists wanting to stay on the International Space Station.
While SpaceX does the bulk of the heavy lifting, Virgin Galactic has carved out a niche trying to make space accessible for what can only be loosely defined as the 'everyman'. The company plans to commence flights into sub-orbital space as early as July 16 this year, with Branson the service's first real 'passenger', and its ship, the VSS Unity, has already successfully completed a test flight into what some consider 'Space'.
One detail remains unclear, however: just how long it will take for any of the ticket holders, many of whom have paid upwards of $250,000 for their seat, to actually take their place on board.
Jeff Bezos also has his fingers in the aerospace pie, and his company, Blue Origin, is quietly emerging as a major competitor to SpaceX. Its main piece of kit is what's known as New Glenn: a two-stage re-usable rocket comparable to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy.
Importantly however, while New Glenn has already been contracted to start delivering satellites into space for a number of companies from 2022, New Glenn is also planned for use in the space tourism sector as well, however the nature of the planned tourist flights is still up in the air.
Blue Origin also hopes to be perhaps the first private company to land a module on the lunar surface. A planned mission for 2024 will put an autonomous module on the Moon's south pole, where it will deliver cargo and collect Lunar Ice for use in future NASA missions.