A private company has successfully launched a rocket into space from New Zealand, the first from a private launch facility.
The US-based Rocket Lab, owned by New Zealand business man Peter Beck, successfully launched its Electron rocket from the Mahia Peninsula in the North Island.
It was the first launch ever from the country and is part of the company’s plans to start commercial launches later this year.
— Rocket Lab (@RocketLabUSA) May 25, 2017
The space industry is now home to an assortment of private companies which are hoping to take advantages of developments in technology that will see humans exploring the solar system and, potentially, beyond.
1. Blue Origin
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos owns the space exploration company Blue Origin, which aims to become a profitable, self-sustaining business that will cut the cost of space travel.
It is planning to begin test flights with pilots and engineers in 2018 that will be able to carry out its first set of missions – 11-minute space orbits aboard its six-passenger capsule, the New Shepherd.
As well, Bezos wants to use his rocket business to create an Amazon-style shipment service to the Moon to prep it for human settlement. He told the Washington Post, a publication he also owns:
It is time for American to return to the Moon. A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this.
Speaking at a Q&A at Seattle’s Museum of Flight last weekend, Bezos revealed the company’s plans to settle on the poles of the money.
“Just in the last 10 years, we have learned that there is water-ice on the moon. This was always thought to be impossible. Certain craters on the poles of the moon, they’re in permanent shadow,” said Bezos. “Once you have water, you can make oxygen.”
Founded in 2015, Landspace is China’s first private space company.
It was founded by veterans of China’s state-owned rocket firms and wants to use flight-proven designs already deployed by the Chinese government, which explains why it has become a big player in such a short space of time.
It plans to conduct its first commercial launch this year and wants to carry out ventures by transporting small satellites into space.
As well, it is reportedly looking into working on more powerful, liquid fuelled rockets that could compete with the likes of Blue Origin’s designs.
China is one to watch when it comes to space.
In 2016, it launched more rockets than Russia for the first time, matching the US’s 22 rocket launches.
This is thanks, in part, to president Xi Jinping’s pledge to triple spending on space science over the next few years.
3. Moon Express
Moon Express is part of Google’s Lunar Xprize competition, which will award $20m to the first privately funded team to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface, travel 500m and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth.
Moon Express is leading the way in the competition as last year it became the first of the private space companies to be given permission to land on the Moon.
It has also signed a multi-mission launch contract with Rocket Lab to complete three lunar missions between 2017 and 2020.
Once the company successfully lands on the Moon, it wants to use its “vast resources for humanity” as well as establishing new avenues for commercial space activities beyond the Earth’s orbit.
SpaceX is one of the most well-known private space startups thanks to its charismatic founder, Elon Musk.
Earlier on in May, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched a reconnaissance satellite at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
Perhaps more importantly, it managed to successfully land the rocket too at the company’s landing zone in Cape Canaveral, also in Florida.
Similar to Blue Origin, SpaceX wants to make re-usable rockets, which is what makes the successfully landing of the Falcon 9 interesting.
But whilst Blue Origin has its sights set on colonising the Moon, Musk has always said that SpaceX is focused on exploring Mars and beyond.
The company wants to launch a robotic mission to Mars in 2020, with a crew mission following four years later.
Once a SpaceX-sponsored colony is established on Mars, Musk thinks there’s no reason to hold back from going elsewhere in the galaxy.
“You could actually go anywhere in the solar system by planet-hopping or moon-hopping. This system gives you the freedom to go anywhere you want in the greater solar system,” he said.
4. Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic, owned by the Virgin Group’s founder Richard Branson, wants to be the world’s first commercial spaceline. Recently, Branson said the company was aiming for its first spaceflight later this year.
He told The Telegraph:
I think I’d be very disappointed if we’re not into space with a test flight by the end of the year and I’m not into space myself next year and the programme isn’t well underway by the end of next year.
The company has been hit with technical and other difficulties, notably the fatal crash of its SpaceShipTwo back in 2014.
However, the company’s chief executive, a former Nasa staff chief named George Whiteside, has said that despite these difficulties, a 2018 commercial flight data is still realistic.
He told the US Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation:
We’re well into test flight now.