With Skyroot Aerospace launching India’s first private commercial rocket, India has joined the new era of the private space race. The US (and its private space companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic) is in the lead for now, followed by the EU, Russia and China. Keep watching this 'space.'
Commercial space launches have taken a new turn with the entry of private companies into the business in recent times. While the space launch market wars began in the 1950s, the entry of private players came much later. Today, there are several private players aiming for commercial missions from countries, including newer entrants like India and China.
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So far, in the history of the space industry, the US has the record for the highest number of commercial space launches, followed by the European Union and Russia. China and India have also made it to the list of countries with successful commercial space launches in recent times.
Meanwhile, mega private aerospace companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have also emerged.
Here’s a look at the countries which are capable of commercial space launches and their private space industry.
The United States has the most prolific and active space agency in the world, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). However, NASA no longer undertakes commercial missions; other space agencies do it through contracts.
Private space flight companies
In the US, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has achieved many firsts as a private company.
SpaceX was the first to send astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and orbit it. It was also the first private company to send a spacecraft to the ISS.
It also developed the first reusable rockets for spacecraft and the first vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing technology for an orbital rocket booster. SpaceX has also launched hundreds of satellites into the lower Earth orbit (LEO) for its sister company, Starlink.
Another private player is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which has sent a crewed mission to space. The company also plans to launch the Blue Moon lander by 2024.
Other private companies, including Boeing and the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) Space Systems, can send cargo to space.
Yet another company, the Orbital Science Corporation, developed Cygnus — which is capable of launching rockets and satellites into space.
Another famous player is Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which can send crewed missions and has plans to launch small satellites.
Russia’s Space Agency, ROSCOSMOS is a major partner in the International Space Station, and undertakes several commercial and space exploration launches.
Success Rockets is a Russian company that is capable of launching satellites into space. Other companies like Cosmocourse, S7 Space, LinIndustrial and Sputnix are planning to launch crewed missions and small satellites into space as well.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has become a major partner for several countries in commercial space launches. The ISRO is one of only a handful of agencies with the capability to launch multiple satellites at once using heavy rockets.
Recently, ISRO’s heaviest rocket LVM3-M2 on its maiden commercial mission successfully placed 36 broadband communication satellites for a UK-based customer into the intended orbits.
India opened the space sector to private players in 2020 and since then a key player, Skyroot Aerospace, has even developed its first launch vehicle. It became the country’s first private company to launch a rocket, the Vikram-suborbital (VKS) into space on November 18.
Other than Skyroot Aerospace, Agnikul Cosmos, Pixxel and Bellatrix are other private players looking to join the private space race.
Japan is one of the world's leading space powers, with its Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), formed in 2003 after the merger of three smaller agencies. Japan launched its first satellite, Osumi, into space in 1970, becoming the fourth country to possess indigenous satellite launch capability. The space agency currently operates a fleet of meteorological, communication, astronomical, and earth observation satellites.
Japan has several private companies that have launched small and large payloads into orbit. Two companies, Interstellar Technologies and ispace, are planning to launch not only payloads but lunar missions as well within 2023.
FRANCE AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
The European Space Agency (ESA), headquartered in Paris, France, is an international alliance of 22 member states. It has additional offices all throughout the world, including the United States and Russia. However, the agency does not undertake commercial missions as it operates with four main goals of science and exploration, space safety, applications, and enabling and support.
France’s ArianeSpace became one of the world’s first commercial launch service providers and boasts launch vehicles like the Vega, Soyuz and Ariane 5 rockets, which have launched several hundred satellites and other payloads into space.
China's space programme has developed rapidly in recent times, overtaking the US and Russia in terms of launch attempts made in a year. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) and the smaller China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) are two primary space agencies of the government.
In the year 2018, China set a goal of 35 orbital launches and made 39 launch attempts overtaking the United States (29 flights) and Russia (20) according to the Space Launch Report.
During 2021, China launched 55, sending 115 spacecraft and 191.19 metric tonnes into orbit with 41 launches headed to LEO and 14 to geosynchronous transfer orbit, as per a Spacenews report.
Galactic Energy, a Beijing-based aerospace company launched a small satellite into space in 2020 and in 2021 it launched the commercial rocket CERES-1 Y2. So far, the company has made five successful commercial launches into space.
Another private Chinese company is i-Space is, which was the first to launch a satellite and its Hyperbola-1 reached LEO on its first-ever flight.
Several companies like Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Australian Space Research Institute, Borneo SubOrbitals, Romanian ARCA Space, Korean Perigee Aerospace and Germany’s Isar Aerospace are also planning to launch rockets into space with payloads according to a News18 report.