History of Private Spaceflight Companies

While many think of NASA when it comes to spaceflight, the history of private spaceflight companies isn't as grand, but just as fascinating.

Almost a century ago, the world began to see the emergence of the first private flight companies. Within a matter of decades, people were yearning to fly on planes from Pan Am, Delta, and Continental. Many believed that they would never see that kind of industry develop again. 

Yet, here we are again. 

Prior to the lunar landing, many sci-fi authors had written books where people would use private spaceflight companies to travel from planet to planet. In 1961, an amateur-built satellite called OSCAR-1 made it into space. Within a matter of years, multiple unmanned satellites were brought into space by non-government groups. 

After NASA brought men to the moon, it was only a matter of time before the history of private spaceflight companies took off. By the 1980s, a number of companies began looking into space travel. 

Space Services Incorporated became the first private spaceflight companies to launch a rocket to space in 1982. By 1984, President Ronald Regan issued out the Commercial Space Launch Act, which encouraged the creation of private spaceflight companies. 

The list of accomplishments quickly snowballed into an entire movement. By 1989, Space Services Inc. had launched a second commercially licensed satellite into space. By 1992, Russian company TsSKB-Progress had launched a capsule that delivered gifts to the US via rocked. 

By 2000, Russian private space tech company MirCorp made the first manned trip to space that wasn't government-funded. Since then, a number of other private spaceflight companies have been funded and have sent people into space. 

Right now, we're on the cusp of seeing insane breakthroughs from a number of different companies. Here are some of the groups that are making waves in the history of private spaceflight companies - and where they're headed in the future. 


Private spaceflight company MirCorp currently has satellites in orbit, and has been working with the Russian Federation for decades. It is the company that first landed a commercial lease agreement for space, first had a commercially funded manned launch into space, and also was the company to land first commercially funded spacewalk, space tourist group, and cargo launch. 

In other words, this company has a lot of experience in this brand-new industry. MirCorp has had a lot of press for its space tourism successes, including a movie called Orphans of Apollo

American businessman Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in history thanks to this company. However, despite getting $73 million in backorders, MirCorp was not able to stay in business. That being said, they are credited with sparking the space tourism industry and bringing out the idea of privatizing space flight. 

*It's worth noting that Space Adventures also has claimed to have Dennis Tito as the first man who went into space as a tourist as part of their company. So, at least on Wikipedia, this is a point of contention on the history of private spaceflight companies. 

Space Adventures

Space tourism company Space Adventures has become a major player in privatized space flights. It's been known for sending Dennis Tito into space*, as well as sending major celebrities, top businessmen, and CEOs into space. As of right now, they allow spacewalking, zero gravity excursions, and more. 

As of right now, Space Adventures is booking lunar missions for $100 million per seat. They also have done a number of suborbital launches, and has been one of the few companies to regularly launch tourists into space. 

Additionally, Space Adventures trained NSYNC member Lance Bass, as well as opera singer Sarah Brightman, on how to survive in space. Yet another cool fact about the history of private spaceflight companies!

Civilian Space eXploration Team

The Civilian Space eXploration Team, also known as CSXT, is actually one of the few private spaceflight companies that is technically comprised of amateurs. The corporate-funded CSXT group has been known to launch rockets since 1995. 

This company is credited with the 2004 "GoFast" rocket, which was the first amateur rocket to ever actually break into the space barrier. That's worth applauding, considering that the entire team is only made of 30 people. 

Bigelow Aerospace

Perhaps one of the largest private spaceflight companies out there would have to be Bigelow Aerospace. This company has partnered with major mega-corporations like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to design a number of space capsules that are expected to launch in the near future. 

Though one of the voyages was cancelled, the other wasn't. They're expected to launch their first manned space flight this year. Their fleet of ships are expected to have as many as six people per flight. 

Bigelow Technology also has a number of space stations under its name. 

Using inflatable technology, Bigelow Aerospace is also considering making a moonbase within the near future. Should this happen, they will be the very first company to help colonize the moon - a major step in the history of private spaceflight companies. 


You can't really talk about spaceflight without talking about SpaceX, the notorious brainchild of Elon Musk. So far, the company has been funded with about $120 million, with around $100 million coming from Musk's personal fortune. 

The company secured a billion-dollar contract to do a series of unmanned space flights with the US government years ago. A manned flight involving a crew of up to seven people is expected to happen this year with the company's famous Falcon 9 craft. 

Additionally, SpaceX is also currently developing a deep space ship that will be hopefully capable of launching around 100 to 200 people into space. The purpose of this technology, space tourism aside, will be to do interplanetary travel. 

Should this interplanetary spaceship succeed, it will be the largest ship to ever go into deep space in the history of private spaceflight companies - as well as the history of space travel as a whole. 

SpaceX also is working on reusable launch equipment, meaning that space travel will also end up causing less environmental damage in the future. 

Orbital Sciences

Orbital Sciences, also known as Orbital ATK, first created in 1982, might be one of the oldest private spaceflight companies right now. It already has a number of rockets launched into space, including a number of unmanned orbiter satellites. 

NASA has provided them with a number of contracts valuing in at almost $2 billion to deliver cargo. They've been currently considering updating their Cygnus 2 into a spaceplane. 

Orbital ATK has also been credited with the designing and building of a number of rocket launchers and for having incredibly advanced technology. One might say that their tech-savvy team launched Orbital into greatness. 

Blue Origin

Another big player in the history of private spaceflight companies is Blue Origin, which has been given contracts by NASA to work on passenger escape system engineering. Much like SpaceX, this privatized company is headed by Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. 

As of right now, Blue Origin only does unmanned missions. However, they have been working on testing manned flights, and are expected to have their first manned mission into orbit by 2019. 

The company also revealed what their suborbital spaceflight technology would be like. So, perhaps we will see some space tourism from this company, too? 

Sierra Nevada Corp

No, not the beer company. 

This space technology company made history by creating reusable cargo launch systems, thereby making space flight cheaper and also more environmentally-friendly. 

Multi-mission aircraft is what they do best, but they've also been known to work with orbiter satellites, space surveillance technology, and also were able to contribute to the rockets in Virgin Galactic's space program. 

Virgin Galactic

Yes, the same company that brought you the airline also decided to have a private spaceflight company to expand their travel options! Headed by Richard Branson himself, Virgin Galactic has been working on becoming the first large scale private spaceflight company in the world. 

As of right now, they're currently testing their second spaceship, VSS Unity. They offer astronaut training, and are currently trying to make space flight affordable for the average person. 

While it's a long ways away, we're all kind of hoping it'll be a bit cheaper than their current reservation price tag of $250,000. Even so, this is way cheaper than usual when you look at the history of private spaceflight companies. 

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History of Private Spaceflight Companies
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OMNI Magazine October 1978