Any space enthusiast, especially any who grew up during the 1960's
space age, knows very well that most grand space plans never
fly, at least not within the predicted time scale. However, as illustrated
by the above images, some amazing space schemes do occasionally
get off the ground. This page is dedicated to the thesis that such
successes will become more and more common as private space efforts
multiply and grow in the next few years.
In the previous Commercial
Stairway to Space: Timeline - 2005 and 2004,
I laid out what I considered a credible set of milestones that would
lead to a scenario in which private, commercial activity dominates
space development by the middle of the next decade. This will depend
primarily on creating space transport systems that offer significantly
lower prices for access to low earth orbit, i.e. a few hundred dollars
per kilogram instead of the several thousand that it takes today.
So the emphasis in the timelines shown below is on the development
of low cost space transport and on markets that will encourage high
Note: Only high fight rates will push flight costs down
but this obviously requires space transport systems that are capable
of high flight rates. So we need spaceships that are fully reusable,
highly reliable, allow for fast turnaround between flights, use
small operational crews, and are robust (i.e. need only infrequent
I first review what actually
happened and didn't happen in 2005 and compare that to last year's
Not surprisingly, several of the "predictions" for 2005
did not occur. For example, the SpaceX
Falcon 1 rocket did not fly and no new private suborbital vehicles
broke the 100 km borderline to space. A number of other events,
however, did occur as expected and also several unexpected events
took place that were quite positive such as the announcement of
the formation of the Rocket
Racing League. Furthermore, some events were merely postponed,
e.g. the next Falcon 1 launch attempt is currently scheduled for
As I said in previous years, my intention is not to predict in detail
what will happen. The emphasis is on highlighting the existence
of a broad and substantial movement towards private spaceflight,
not on individual companies. So while company "A" may
fail to achieve its goals, company "B", "C",
or "D" will have better luck (and maybe a better design
and/or business plan) and succeed at those same goals.
The wealth of space
angel investors is currently the primary fuel that is
propelling the entrepreneurial space movement forward. However,
it will not always be dependent on the generosity of a few farsighted
individuals. As with most every other commercial technology, practical
space transport that is robust and low cost will be achieved with
a step-by-step development process in which each step builds on
the lessons learned and profits earned in the previous step.
So, for example, rocket racing will take place far below orbit
but it will teach companies how to build rocket engines that are
safe, can be fired many times, and are relatively cheap to operate.
If rocket racing is a commercial success, the companies involved
will gain the financial wherewithal to fund further rocket engine
and vehicle development.
Racing League plans demonstration flights
in 2006. Racing events should begin in 2007.
In 2005 the prospects for space tourism continued to strengthen.
It appears now that both suborbital and orbital tourism will provide
markets big enough to support several successful space transport
companies. In that case, private space development will become self-sustaining
and not depend solely on funding from a small number of wealthy
While exploration and science are important reasons for going into
outer space, large scale settlement of space will be one of the
most profound developments in the history of humanity. Our solar
system offers enormous resources and can provide incredible opportunities
for economic growth and cultural diversification. Furthermore, it
can ensure that any planet-wide catastrophe on earth does not mean
the end of humanity.
In 2005 the giggle factor associated with the space settlement
proposition did not disappear entirely. However, as happened with
space tourism after Dennis Tito's ISS flight, the laughing is starting
to die away and serious consideration of the concept is becoming
more widespread. Several of the space
angel investors, such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, have
made it quite clear that they are pursuing space development because
of their strong belief that people will eventually move to space
colonies throughout our solar system.
will launch its first prototype
habitat in 2006.
The viability of space development by private enterprise continued
to solidify in 2005. Space
angel investors maintained their funding of a number
of ongoing projects. Several new enterprises made their debut (see
the table below). The list
of new types of commercial space businesses and the number of
participants in entrepreneurial space businesses all continued to
Even NASA got into the act when it began its COTS
(Commercial Orbital Transportation System) program, which will pay
for cargo and crew delivery services to the ISS. This program does
not require that payloads and crew travel via rockets designed and
operated by NASA. Instead the agency will leave it solely up to
the companies to decide how best to provide these services.
Of course, as in any industry, individual companies come and go
and several prominent alt.space firms have left the scene in recent
years. However, new firms have arisen to take their place. There
is today a breadth and depth to the new entrepreneurial space movement
that has not been there previously.
The following quote was in last year's timeline and has even more
credibility after 2005:
"However, there is one point that needs to be made early
in this discussion that clearly is not understood by the traditional
space establishment. I believe the new space frontier movement
can survive and even begin the opening of space completely on
its own, even if NASA vanished tomorrow." - Rick Tumlinson,
/ Space News - March, 2005.
The first table reviews progress since the first timeline
was created. The second
table lays out an updated, revised timeline. (Since lowering
the cost of transport from earth to orbit is crucial to all important
goals in space, that category is given the greatest emphasis here.)
See the 2004
discussion of what could delay or accelerate the scenario
laid out here.
Note: In the following table where I list particular firms,
my intention is only to show that there exists one or more real
companies that could accomplish a given milestone. There will very
likely be other companies that accomplish the same thing, perhaps
It's also certain that some companies listed here will not achieve
their goals and will perhaps disappear completely from the scene.
That is the nature of the commercial environment. The point here
is only to indicate that the private sector is capable in principle
of attaining a particular goal and that eventually some company
will do it.
Several private organizations begin test flights of full
scale reusable suborbital vehicles.
out three launches of the Falcon 1 in 2006.
Racing League holds its first demonstration events in
The XP Cup expands to
a 2-day event and many more rockets fly and many more people
attend that did in October 2005.
NASA announces in June the winner(s) of the Commercial
Orbital Transportation System (COTS) contracts for ISS
cargo resupply. This provides money and credibility to the
winners, who in turn may use the contracts to raise additional
private investment for vehicle development.
Unmanned reusable sounding rockets such as those from UP
Aerospace and Beyond-Earth
Enterprises start to fly small payloads (science experiments,
student projects, memorabilia, etc.) They will build businesses
based on fees for such flights.
NASA announces the purses and detailed requirements for the
suborbital vehicle Centennial Challenges that were first
revealed at the XP Cup in 2005. Several companies sign up
to contest for the competition.
Aerospace in early 2006 launches its first Genesis 1/3
scale inflatable habitat module on a Russian Dnepr rocket.
The primary suborbital market is tourism but additional markets
develop in the areas of:
- High altitude imaging & reconnaissance
- Experiments in microgravity, astronomy, atmospheric studies,
magnetosphere research, & other scientific areas
- Release of missile defense targets
- Air show exhibitions
expands its service to at least one other city in the US.
and other skill game enterprises become a new space business
that gives people with modest incomes a shot at getting a
Enomoto will become the fourth tourist to go to the ISS.
Services Inc. flies in 2006 a payload of cremated remains
on the first Falcon 1 to launch from Vandenberg. With the
availability of regular, low cost space access via the Falcon
1 vehicle, (and launched from a site easily accessible in
the US for friends and families of the deceased) the company
finally builds a successful space burial business.
out the first launch of the Falcon 9 in 2007.
Racing League has several teams racing in at least three
separate events in 2007.
Aerospace Ventures begins test flights of the SS2 in 2008
and Virgin Galactic begins passenger flights in late 2008
or early 2009.
The $250M Southwest
Regional Spaceport opens in 2008 in time for the first
Virgin Galactic flights.
At least two or three other private organizations begin crewed
flights of full scale suborbital vehicles. The following companies,
for example, indicate they have significant funding as of
2006 and will be building and flying crewed vehicles in this
Other suborbital projects listed here
may also obtain funding and fly vehicles by 2008.
In addition, one or two of the suborbital vehicles start
launching small expendable second stages to take small payloads
At least one or two companies demonstrated cargo launches
to the ISS under the COTS program.
LLC places a small payload into orbit on the first demo
flight of its QuickReach vehicle.
Challenges are won by late 2008.
Aerospace carries out "two '"Guardian' 45% scale
inflatable module flights in 2007 carrying critical life-support
system demonstration hardware." (Spaceflight
Aerospace launches the unmanned full scale Nautilus module
in 2008. (Spaceflight
By the end of 2007, several hundred people place deposits
down for tickets to fly on the SS2 and other suborbital tourist
vehicles that begin regular service in 2008.
In 2008 at least a hundred thousand people attend the annual
X PRIZE Cup to observe
the rocket competitions, exhibitions, and the Rocket Racing
1 finally becomes the first solar sail spacecraft to travel
in space successfully.
Adventures continues to fly one to two space tourists
to the ISS each year.
NASA finally agrees to the first pure data
purchase contract for a science mission. This will involve
a company like SpaceDev,
that builds and flies a spacecraft on its own to carry out
a science mission such as prospecting
a near earth asteroid. NASA will simply pay for the data
returned and will have no involvement with the details of
the spacecraft or how the mission is carried out.
By 2009, one of the major aerospace companies becomes a close
partner with SpaceX
and supports the Falcon 9, which will be the lowest priced
launch vehicle in the world for large payloads.
Due to COTS funding, which violates the no "government
development funding" restriction, none of the most viable
companies can compete for the America's
Space Prize. So the contest will either be withdrawn or
modified to allow for some degree of government funding. If
the latter, then at least two teams will be strong candidates
for the prize and will make strong efforts to achieve the
main goals of the contest before the deadline.
In 2010 Blue
Origin successfully launches a fully reusable two-stage
vertical-take-off-and landing system capable of taking a crew
of two and a small payload to orbit.
A new administration reorients the Moon/Mars Exploration
program towards low cost systems and towards heavy involvement
of innovative entrepreneurial companies. NASA cancels the
CEV and instead contracts with the several private firms for
its space transport requirements.
By 2010 vehicles developed for the COTS ISS resupply program
begin regular crew and cargo service to the ISS and to a Bigelow
habitat in equatorial orbit.
Aerospace launches a crew to the full scale Nautilus module
in 2010. (Spaceflight
By 2010, suborbital transportation grows into ~$100M to $200M
industry by flying 1000-2000 space tourists per year and by
serving the other suborbital markets listed above. Launch
services in several countries become available.
A private firm lands a rover on one of the lunar poles and
begins exploration for ice deposits.
The German led AMSAT
P5A mission succeeds in sending in placing a spacecraft
in orbit around Mars in 2009. (See also Go-Mars.de)
Recovery launches the first comsat rescue mission in 2009.
Bigleow begins development of an earth orbit to lunar transport
vehicle - the Nautilus Moon Cruiser - based on its
inflatable structures technology.
The Russian Kliper
flies unmanned. ESA collaborates with Russia on the project.
Inspired by the success of the commercial space companies
and the falling price of access to LEO, several wealthy associations
and private organizations of diverse ideologies and philosophies
come into being with the goal of building a large scale habitat
in orbit or on the Moon with hundreds of residents by 2025.
A wealthy country without a space program of its own, decides
to employ a Russian firm to implement the CSI
Lunar Express method to fly two of its citizens around
the Moon by 2015.
Orbital tourism becomes practical when trips to the Bigelow
Aerospace space hotel become available.
The Russian Kliper
flies a crew to the ISS.
A private company establishes an orbiting fuel depot. Cargo
flights from earth bring fuel to the depot, which in turn
supplies fuel to various orbiting spacecraft and Earth-to-Moon
By 2014 NASA lands a crew on the Moon using a space transport
system significantly different from that described in NASA's
original Exploration Architecture released in 2005.
Several hundred customers sign up at 1 million dollars per
seat for a trip to the Bigelow hotel.
Products made on the private space stations, such as exotic
glass and metallic artworks, begin selling on earth.