So far, the space business has been pretty much limited to governments. Some small companies have tried to develop rockets or capsules on their own, but most of their efforts have come up short. But American business hasn't given up. And this year could see the launch of several new approaches to space.
Late this year, for example, a company called SpaceX plans to launch a capsule called Dragon. If it works as planned, it could carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station after NASA retires its fleet of space shuttles.
One company has already launched two capsules into space. Bigelow Aerospace eventually wants to put large inflatable structures in orbit to serve as bases for scientific research or other missions. It's scheduled the launch of a large prototype for 2010.
That same year, another company says it'll test a spiffy new rocketplane -- and perhaps even carry paying customers on brief jaunts into space.
It's called Rocketplane XP, and it looks like a small business jet. It'll take off from a base in Oklahoma, and use engines built for jet fighters to reach an altitude of about 40,000 feet -- a little higher than the cruising altitude of most airliners. Then it'll fire a rocket engine and climb to 60 miles. Up to five passengers -- paying $200,000 apiece -- will experience about three minutes of weightlessness. Then the rocketplane will fly back to its runway -- just 45 minutes after takeoff.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2007
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