Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
During the early years of spaceflight only nation states had the resources to develop and fly spacecraft. Both the U.S. space program and Soviet space program were operated using mainly military pilots as astronauts. During this period, no commercial space launches were available to private operators, and no private organization was able to offer space launches.
The first phase of private space operation was the launch of the first commercial communications satellites. The U.S. Communications Satellite Act of 1962 opened the way to commercial consortia owning and operating their own satellites, although these were still launched on state-owned launch vehicles.
On October 30, 1984, United States President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Commercial Space Launch Act . This enabled an industry of private operators of expendable launch systems. Prior to the signing of this law, all commercial satellite launches in the United States were limited to the Space Shuttle, operated by NASA.
In 1994, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government sold part of their stake in RSC Energia to private investors. Energia together with Khrunichev constituted most of the Russian manned space program. In 1997, the Russian government sold off enough of their share to lose their majority position. Energia builds the Soyuz rocket and owns part of the Sea Launch project.
As of 2004, a number of private organizations are able to launch satellites commercially. The emergence of this sector has led to a commercial market for the services of state space organizations around the world.
Private satellite launch organizations include:
State space organizations offering commercial services include:
- China Satellite Launch and Tracking General
- India Space Research Organization
- Russian Federal Space Agency
Until 2004, no privately operated manned spaceflight had ever occurred. The only private individuals to journey to space went as space tourists on vehicles operated by the Russian Federation.
The Ansari X Prize is intended to stimulate private investment in the development of spaceflight technologies. The June 21, 2004 test flight of SpaceShipOne, a contender for the X Prize, was the first manned spaceflight in a privately developed and operated vehicle.
Following the success of SpaceShipOne, Richard Branson, owner of Virgin and Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne's designer, announced on 27 September 2004 that Virgin Galactic had licensed the craft's technology, and were planning commercial space flights in 2.5 to 3 years. A fleet of five craft is to be constructed, and flights will be offered at around $190,000 each, although Branson has said he plans to use this money to make flights more affordable in the long term.
Although one typically refers to commercial endeavours with the term private spaceflight, it also refers to non-profit endeavours:
- Civilian Space eXploration Team launched the GoFast Rocket on a suborbital flight, the first amateur space flight on May 17, 2004.
- Cosmos 1: First solar sail, by Planetary Society (under development, launching April 2005)
- Mars Oasis : experimental greenhouse on Mars, by Elon Musk (delayed)
- AMSAT, a group which builds, launches, and operates amateur radio satellites
Many have speculated on where private spaceflight may go in the near future. One possibility is for paid suborbital tourism on craft like SpaceShipOne. Additionally, suborbital spacecraft have applications for faster intercontinental package delivery and passenger flight.
SpaceX's Falcon V rocket, scheduled to be first launched in 2005, is designed to be man-rated. This would be the first American orbital vehicle since the Space Shuttle to receive this designation, conceivably allowing the craft to transport paying customers to orbit. The first flight of the Falcon V is planned to carry a prototype inflatable module constructed by Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow Aerospace expects such modules to be used for activities like microgravity research, space manufacturing, and space tourism (with modules serving as orbital hotels).
Others have speculated on the possibilities of mining asteroids to extract metals for profit. According to some estimates, a one kilometer-diameter asteroid would contain 30 million tons of nickel, 1.5 million tons of metal cobalt and 7,500 tons of platinum; the platinum alone would have a value of more than $150 billion at current prices.  While the potential rewards from asteroid mining are indeed huge, the technical challenges are equally large and it seems likely that the private sector will wait for the publicly funded space programme to solve them (e.g. by establishing experimental mines on the Moon).
- Arianespace, a commercial satellite launcher
- XCOR Aerospace, developer of reusable rocket engines. XCOR holds a license from the FAA to fly experimental suborbital spacecraft.
- Virgin Galactic
- Private space industry looks for liftoff (Christian Science Monitor)
- Private space race, public hurdles (MSNBC)
- UPI report: Russian SS-18 missiles now used to launch satellites
- Commercial satellite launch from sea is a first
- A Word from the Know-Nothing Bureaucrats, a letter by NASA union member Dr. William H. Jones which provides a critical viewpoint on private spaceflight.
- Private Industry Can Help NASA Open the Space Frontier (Space Frontier Foundation OpEd, 2/14/2005)
- Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Emerging Markets (FAA AST, February 2005)
- National Space Society - non-profit organization that promotes a spacefaring civilization
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