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To boldly go: 9 commercial spacecraft heading out of this world

Photos logoPhotos 21/05/2015

It used to be that only governments went into space. Now, pioneering businesses are showing the way. And it’s not just space tourism: companies are supplying spacecraft to national space programmes and changing the way we see the final frontier. Check out some of the commercial spacecraft in production, on the scrapheap or in the stars. 

EADS Spaceplane


The SpacePlane, proposed by the European Aeronautic and Defence Company (EADS), is an idea for a suborbital transport ship that is designed to ferry tourists in space. The Spaceplane would be able to take off and land from a civilian airport. The most recent tests were carried out in May 2014 using a scale model prototype.


© AP

The Skylon is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane designed by the British company Reaction Engines Limited. Skylon is designed to take off from a conventional runway, and is on track for test flights to begin in 2019.

Canadian Arrow

© AP

The Canadian Arrow, a vertical sub-orbital spaceflight, started out as a project participating in the X-Prize completion to launch a manned, reusable spacecraft. Although Canadian Arrow did not win, it formed the basis for one of the projects of the PlanetSpace Corporation, a Chicago-based company. PlanetSpace was dissolved in 2013, according to the Industry Canada website. 



SpaceShipOne, piloted by Mike Melvill, was a suborbital air-launched spacecraft that completed its first manned private space flight in 2004. It also won first place at the Ansari X-Prize with a US $10 million award that same year. It was retired from service in 2004 but had made the vital first step in proving viable commercial space travel.


© Bloomberg

The SpaceShipTwo is an air-launched suborbital spaceplane that was designed for the growing sector of space tourism. This project is a joint venture between British billionaire Richard Branson’s Californian company The Spaceship Company and Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites. In an effort to actively promote space tourism, Virgin Galactic has not only started selling tickets (priced US $200,000) but has also developed a fleet of five spaceships. VSS Enterprise, the first SpaceShipTwo craft, broke up in-flight in October 2014, resulting in the death of one of the test pilots.  

Dream Chaser


Designed by the Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Dream Chaser is a reusable suborbital and orbital manned spacecraft capable of carrying up to seven passengers. It needs a vertical rocket to launch, much like existing NASA space shuttles, and lands horizontally on a conventional runway. It has an orbital test flight planned for late 2016. 



Tesla CEO Elon Musk entered the realm of space tourism with his company SpaceX. Their spacecraft design, Dragon, became the first commercially built and operated spacecraft to rendezvous with and dock with the International Space Station, in May 2012. Further tests are planned in 2015 and 2016.



Lynx is yet another entrant in the emerging market of space tourism for sub-orbital and orbital trips: a rocket-powered spaceplane with room for one pilot and one passenger. California-based company XCOR Aerospace announced that the first test flight would take place in 2015.



The Crew Space Transportation (CST) is designed to transport crew to space stations in Earth orbit (for example, the International Space Station) via a conventional vertical rocket launch. An uncrewed test flight to the ISS is planned for April 2017.

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