Six companies Elon Musk's SpaceX should be keeping an eye on

After SpaceX aborted a reusable rocket launch, MT looks at the companies sending the commercial space industry into orbit.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 18 Nov 2015

Space travel has long been the stuff of pretty much everyone’s childhood dreams, so it’s no surprise that a lucky few can keep reaching for the stars into adulthood, spending years and hundreds of millions trying to cheapen and commercialise rockets (many of which have crash-landed).

SpaceX, set up by Paypal founder and Silicon Valley darling Elon Musk, is all about making space affordable. Yesterday, the entrepreneur’s company was due to test out a reusable rocket, which, considering each one dumped in the ocean costs around $54m (£32m), could save a helluva lot of money. Alas, the launch was aborted - such is the way of space.

However, SpaceX isn’t the only company trying to bring down the price of the heavens.

1. Boeing

The US defence giant has its eyes firmly on the outer space pie, currently testing a commercially-viable space craft which it hopes to have ready by 2015. To launch it, Boeing has spurned SpaceX’s rockets for those made in a joint venture with fellow defence leviathan Lockheed Martin. The company also built the US air force’s X-37B unmanned spacecraft, which has been orbiting the Earth on a hush-hush government mission for over a year now.

2. Blue Origin

Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ blue-sky baby, Blue Origin is developing its New Shepherd rocket to take tourists and researchers to the edge of space and eventually to the International Space Station, a project which is still in its testing stages after almost a decade’s work. Musk may not need to be too concerned: Blue Origin’s sparse website says it ‘won’t make…updates frequently’. True to its word, there have been four since 2007 and zero since 2012.

3. Orbital

Orbital describes its rockets as the ‘industry standard’ for launching satellites and its craft resupply the International Space Station. The company, founded in 1982 by three Harvard Business School friends, also makes launchers for missile defence systems, another Boeing-esque happy marriage between defence and space

4. Reaction Engines

In the Oxfordshire countryside, far from the vast American deserts beloved of NASA, is Reaction Engines, founded by three former Rolls Royce engineers. The company has designed the Sabre engine, which combines rocket propulsion with a jet engine, and a sleek dark plane called Skylon for it to go in. If the plane were to come to fruition, it would make separate launch rockets and crafts obsolete, potentially making space travel a whole lot cheaper. The problem? Finding several billion pound’s worth of funding to make the project fly.

5. Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson has been trying to make space tourism a reality for donkey’s years: back in 2008 he predicted his first flight would be within 18 months. Several years later his SpaceShipTwo (SS2) has managed a height of 71,000 feet, or around 13 miles, well short of the 62 miles to get a government licence for take off. Despite the eccentric billionaire’s prediction that he’ll be weightless by autumn, it looks like Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and Stephen Hawking, who have all forked out as much as $250,000 to reserve a seat in space, are going to be grounded for a little while longer.

6. Clyde Space

Glasgow-based Clyde Space isn’t into all those whizz-bang rockets but is, nonetheless, making space better value by manufacturing low-cost small satellites. Its CubeSats are a teeny-tiny 10cm square, weigh just 1kg and can be yours for a few thousand pounds. Nasa, the US Air Force and the German Space Agency quite like them too.

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