Orbital has conducted 55 space launch missions since 1990 using the
Pegasus (air launched system) for 40 of the launches. Pegasus can launch up to 1000 lbs into low earth orbit.
Orbital Science Taurus rocket has launched 8 times with up to 3500lbs to low earth orbit.
Orbital Science also has Minotaur rockets for about 580-800 kg to low earth orbit.
California-based SpaceDev is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sierra Nevada Corp. (which acquired it in 2008) and has been developing the reusable Dream Chaser space plane to launch crew and cargo into space at an Atlas 5 rocket.
In February, Sierra Nevada won $20 million in NASA funds to continue the Dream Chaser’s development. The spacecraft’s design is based on the HL-20 lifting body tested by NASA and aims to launch on a rocket and land on a conventional runway, for quick turnaround and reuse.
Company: Virgin Galactic
Spaceship Name: SpaceShipTwo
Plans to Launch into Space: end of 2011 or early 2012
Number of Passengers: 6 passengers, 2 pilots
The only air-launched vehicle in the group, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle is still just a suborbital vehicle designed for space tourism jaunts into space. The company envisions launching paying passengers on suborbital thrill rides for about $200,000 per seat. However, the spacecraft’s mother ship – the huge WhiteKnightTwo aircraft – could be modified to launch small rockets or satellites for NASA or other users.