Tickets to Ride
SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot suborbital spaceship, is due to begin test flights beyond the atmosphere in 2012.
Jan. 3, 2011 - Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which is selling rides on the spaceship for $200,000 per person, has reservations from nearly 500 people. SpaceShipTwo is based on the SpaceShipOne prototype which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004 for the first privately funded human spaceflights.
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FedEx of Space
It’s been more than a year since the debut of Space Exploration Technologies’ Dragon spacecraft, a cargo ship the company plans to upgrade to carry passengers as well.
In February, SpaceX hopes to make up some time by combining its next two test flights into one that will dock at the International Space Station. If successful, SpaceX plans to start working on its $1.6 billion contract with NASA to deliver supplies and cargo to the orbital outpost.
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UPS of Space
SpaceX isn’t the only company building commercial spaceships to resupply the space station.
Orbital Science Corp’s Cygnus capsule, pictured here in an artist’s rendering, is scheduled to make its first flight in 2012, launched aboard the company’s newly renamed Antares rocket (formerly known as Taurus 2).
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Company in Space
China, which is not a part of the International Space Station program, plans to staff its own outpost in orbit, following a successfully automated docking test in 2011.
Shenzhou 9 and Shenzhou 10 are both scheduled to launch in 2012 to link up with China’s Tiangong 1 space laboratory prototype. At least one will include a Chinese crew. China has made steady progress with its human space program, including a spacewalk in 2008.
Photo: The crew of China's third human space mission returns to Earth on Sept. 28, 2007. The three-day flight included China's first spacewalk.
Space Station Add-on
The United States finished building its side of the $100 billion space station in 2011 and retired its space shuttle fleet, but Russia still has some modules on the way.
The long-awaited Multipurpose Laboratory Module is due to launch mid-year aboard a Russian Proton rocket in 2012. The module also includes a European robotic crane.
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Steps to Mars
With its space shuttle program over, NASA is mustering its resources for its next human space endeavor -- missions beyond the space station, which orbits about 240 miles above Earth.
NASA finished up the year with a test of the parachutes being designed for its crew spaceship, Orion. The capsule’s first test flight is planned for 2014.
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