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Private Space Vehicles Begin to Fly, Including the SpaceShipTwo, but 2014 Crash May Slow Development, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

SpaceX hopes to send two tourists around the moon and back in the relatively near future; but bold visions for the future are standard for SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who also founded Tesla Motors.  Meanwhile, Boeing’s CST-100 “Starliner” is intended to fly astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).  The CST-100 capsule is propelled by a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.  The company launched the unmanned capsule in December 2019, but it suffered an in-flight glitch that stranded it in an unplanned orbit.  The capsule was brought down safely, and the company hoped to attempt another flight in 2021.  Unfortunately, the company found problems with the capsule’s propulsion system valves in August 2021, which delayed further launches.  America has been relying on Russian spacecraft to get to the ISS for years, since the end of the Space Shuttle program at NASA.
Sierra Nevada Corp. (www.sncorp.com) is working on a winged vehicle called the Dream Chaser that will also fly on an Atlas 5 rocket.  The craft would launch vertically, but land horizontally on conventional runways, much like the Space Shuttle.  NASA selected the Dream Chaser to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal service for the ISS, with a minimum of six missions between 2019 and 2024.
Virgin Galactic (which is owned by Sir Richard Branson 's UK-based Virgin Group and UAE-based aabar Investments PJS) hopes to become the world's first commercial space passenger line.  Its VSS Unity (formerly referred to as SpaceShipTwo) space craft and a related launch vehicle have been developed by Mojave-based Scaled Composites, which was founded by famed aircraft innovator Burt Rutan.  In December 2018, VSS Unity attained an altitude of 271,000 feet (51.4 miles) in a test flight, successfully cruising along the edge of space.  Another successful flight was made in February 2019, and operations have moved to Spaceport America in New Mexico in early 2020.  On July 12, 2021, Branson, along with two pilots and three Virgin Galactic employees, successfully traveled on SpaceShipTwo, where they enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness before flying back to Earth and executing a runway landing.  As of mid-2021, Virgin Galactic had more than 600 reservations for future flights at $250,000 each.  Prior to flight, passengers will go through a two or three-day training program.  The weightless part of their flight experience will last about six minutes.
Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2000, offers flights that take roughly 11-minutes in total, in fully automated reusable capsules, with views of the Earth from the edge of space.  After initial capsules enjoyed 15 successful, unoccupied test flights, Bezos himself blasted into high altitude on July 20, 2021, accompanied by his brother. Also on the flight were an 82-year-old aviation pioneer who was one of 13 female pilots who trained at NASA in the early 1960s, plus an 18-year-old from The Netherlands.  The 10-minute flight reached an altitude of about 66 miles above the Earth.


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