How to Get a Piece of the Private Space Race
In February another private venture, XCOR Aerospace, raised $5 million from investors to finish developing its Lynx family of rocket-propelled planes (after securing $10 million in NASA funding for the program in 2011), which will be able to fly people into suborbital space or micro-satellites into low earth orbit. By offering tickets to space tourists for $95,000 a pop, XCOR undercuts Virgin's price by more than 50%, but the company is at least equally interested in the potential revenue from selling its planes and licensing its technology to others.
Namely the company's effort to produce reusable, non-toxic propulsion systems has gotten the attention of partners in government as well as the private sector, with Boeing(BA) and Lockheed Martin(LMT) buying into XCOR's rocket engine design through a partnership with the two companies' joint aerospace venture, United Launch Alliance.
But where Branson leads the effort to get rich people into space and companies like XCOR have received some support from NASA and the federal government, entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX is the leader so far in the positioning for lucrative government contracts to take over the job of launching supplies and humans to the International Space Station. The company was one of three to be awarded funds and expertise through NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) initiative to promote private-sector efforts to go to space, and it has already secured contracts from NASA and foreign clients for 38 launches.
The company already put a satellite into orbit using its Falcon rocket, and in 2010 SpaceX took the next small step in the manned spaceflight initiative, by launching and returning its Dragon capsule, capable of shuttling seven people or equivalent cargo to space. The company appeared to be right on schedule to blast off as planned on May 7 with its first trip using the Falcon rocket and Dragon spacecraft, but backtracked on Wednesday, saying that the launch is likely to be delayed as SpaceX works through software assurance process issues with NASA.