The race to space. There may be others making the attempt, but for this page, I’m focusing on SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and a surprise reveal – Virgin Orbit. Technically each company has already “made” it to space. But where they are today, what’s been done already and what they are planning to do next are documented below. Let’s start with a brief overview of each company currently building the infrastructure to continue their mission. Note: These are in no particular order.
The ultimate goal for SpaceX is to build a habitat on Mars ideal for human living. To get there, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and his team of rocket scientists has built a fleet of reusable rockets, each designed to carry a payload to low-Earth orbit such as satellites, equipment and supplies needed for NASA’s International Space Station.
To date SpaceX has sent crews to space but they did not land on Earth in one of the company’s reusable rockets. While inside the Dragon spacecraft, they dropped into the ocean using a parachute. The evolution of this is to send a crew to space and they return to Earth, landing vertically, on SpaceX’s Starship, which will carry crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit, but on a larger scale, using the Super Heavy rocket.
Starship’s first mission, dearMoon, will launch from SpaceX’s Starbase carrying a crew to space, fly around the moon and return to Earth. The crew will be in orbit for a week. The first mission’s crew has been selected, but no launch date has been published. As of October 12, 2022, the first two crewmembers of Starlink’s second mission have been announced. More to come on Starship’s missions as updates become available.
NASA continues to work closely with SpaceX and has selected Starship to support sustained lunar exploration.
SpaceX completed 61 missions to space in 2022. The 61st mission was the launch of the ISI EROS C-3 mission. The previous 60th mission was the launch of Starlink mission where SpaceX delivered 54 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit.
View SpaceX’s launches and missions. As of December 2022, SpaceX has launched 199 missions in total.
Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin is building a fleet of reusable rockets, or in this case reusable engines, similar to SpaceX. What’s really interesting is Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef, a mixed-use space station in low-Earth orbit. I highly recommend you watch the Orbital Reef video to learn who’s building it and what they plan to do with it. According to the video, they plan to have it ready by the end of this decade, sometime around 2030.
Blue Origin offers an astronaut program where passengers can ride on the company’s flagship New Shepard rocket at 3X the speed of sound to 62 miles above earth. Once in Earth orbit, the New Shepard Crew Capsule detaches from the rocket. The rocket then returns to Earth with a vertical landing. The crew, still in the New Shepard Crew Capsule, float weightless for several minutes and then gently descends to Earth using parachutes. The total flight time is 11 minutes. As of August 4, 2022, Blue Origin has successfully completed its sixth human spaceflight and the 22nd flight for the New Shepard program.
In 2020 NASA selected Blue Origin to develop the Artemis Human Landing System and in 2022 selected Blue Origin to provide commercial launch services.
Blue Origin currently launches from Launch Site One, located in the West Texas region, 25 miles north of the town of Van Horn.
Watch Blue Origin’s mission video to learn more on the company’s path to space.
You may have heard of Virgin Records, the first company under the Virgin brand, now owned by Universal Music Group, and Virgin Atlantic, Richard Branson’s airline he started back in the 1980s (1984 to be exact). Twenty years after taking flight with Virgin Atlantic’s first Boeing 747, Branson launched Virgin Galactic (according to the website, Virgin Galactic is the world’s first commercial spaceline). Watch the documentary BRANSON on HBO to learn how Branson started the Virgin brand, leading up to the launch of Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic has been covered by the media so if you have followed anything space related, you should be somewhat familiar with the company’s concept. It’s mission is slightly different than SpaceX and Blue Origin in that it only provides a weightless experience for passengers once they reach altitude. That changed in 2017 with the launch of Virgin Orbit to compete with SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Virgin Orbit’s mission is to deliver payload to space. Instead of using reusable rockets or engines, Virgin Orbit created a drone to deliver payload. However, it’s not the drone you’re probably thinking of, like those made by DJI or Aquiline Drones (I highly recommend you check out Aquiline Drones to learn about drone possibilities and the future of drone flight). And it doesn’t look anything like, nor does it operate like military drones.
Virgin Orbit took a former Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 and built LauncherOne, a rocket that sits under the airliner’s belly. Once it reaches high altitude, the rocket is released, fires its engine, and delivers its payload in space. Virgin Orbit’s primary mission – deliver satellites in a way that is agile and affordable.
In December 2022 Virgin Orbit received range and launch licenses for their Start Me Up mission, which launches satellites from UK soil. To date missions have launched from Mojave, California in the US.
NASA continues to work closely with Virgin Orbit to deliver satellites to space.
View Virgin Orbit’s missions to date (I recommend selecting list view).