The private space race is on. Here's a look at the ventures that are changing the way we explore the galaxy

[The new (private) frontier]


The company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind PayPal and electric-car maker Tesla Motors, is now vital to the future of the International Space Station (ISS). In 2014 SpaceX plans to launch four missions to resupply the ISS as part of a $1.6 billion contract for 12 deliveries. Meanwhile, the company’s Falcon Heavy, expected to be the world’s most powerful rocket when it launches this year, will carry larger loads into space.

Virgin Galactic

Founder Richard Branson says his SpaceShipTwo is on track to begin taking passengers into the edges of the atmosphere in 2014. Tickets aren’t cheap–they’re going for roughly $250,000–but more than 600 people have already signed up to be among the first space tourists in history and the first to fly a private space airline. Up next? Space hotels and trips to Mars, Branson says.

Sierra Nevada Corp.

Sierra Nevada Corp. hopes to create the first privately designed spacecraft to deliver astronauts (rather than cargo) to the ISS. With the Dream Chaser, which looks like a more refined version of the ships in the now defunct U.S. space-shuttle program, the company is competing for the chance to be NASA’s taxi service, along with SpaceX, Boeing and others. The ship could take its first manned test flight in 2014.

Orbital Sciences Corp.

Relative old-timer Orbital Sciences Corp., which has sent commercial, research and defense satellites into space since 1982, successfully connected with the ISS in 2013, paving the company’s way to be the only firm besides SpaceX contracted with NASA to keep the ISS equipped. The first resupply mission with its Antares rocket is scheduled for this month.

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