The New Space Race


By Nancy Trejos USA TODAY

More than a dozen private companies are developing spacecraft to transport cargo or people to space. A few of them:

SpaceX: Its seven-seat Dragon capsule in May became the first commercial spacecraft to fly to the International Space Station and return to Earth intact. Founded by PayPal co-founder and billionaire Elon Musk, the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company has won two NASA awards to carry cargo and people into orbit. Last year, it won $75 million in the second round of awards. This month, NASA promised an additional $440 million. A first test flight with people will take place in 2015.

Sierra Nevada: Sierra Nevada's Space Systems received $117.6 million from NASA in the first two rounds of awards for transport to the Space Station. This month, NASA pledged an additional $212.5 million for the Colorado-based space company to develop the Dream Chaser, which looks like a miniature version of NASA's space shuttle. The seven-seat spacecraft will launch vertically on an Atlas V rocket and land horizontally on a runway just like a plane. A first test flight is expected in 2016.

Blue Origin: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos backs this secretive Kent, Wash.-company that's trying to develop vehicles for suborbital and orbital flights. For suborbital flights above the planet's surface without reaching orbit, the company is working on the New Shepard, a capsule that can carry three or more astronauts atop a separate rocket-powered propulsion module. To transport up to seven astronauts to the Space Station, the company is developing the Space Vehicle, a capsule that launches vertically and re-enters horizontally. The company has received $20.1 million from NASA.

Boeing: The Chicago-based aerospace giant won NASA's largest award, $460 million, to build a seven-person Crew Space Transportation-100 capsule that will fly atop an Atlas V rocket. Boeing anticipates a test flight by 2016. It has received $125.2 million in NASA funding in previous rounds.

Virgin Galactic: British airline mogul Richard Branson's U.S.-based Virgin Galactic plans suborbital flights by the end of 2013. SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots. The WhiteKnightTwo, a cargo aircraft, will launch SpaceShipTwo up to 50,000 feet. So far, VirginGalactic has collected more than $65 million in deposits from 535 customers. Tickets cost $200,000 each. The company is funded largely by Branson's Virgin Group and the Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments.

XCOR Aerospace: The Mojave, Calif.-based company is developing a Lynx suborbital and reusable launch vehicle that can accommodate two people. Flights could begin as early as the end of next year. The company says it has spent about $50 million to $60 million developing the Lynx. A ticket will cost $95,000.

Copyright 2012 Gannett Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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