The following is a timeline of important events in the history of private spaceflight, including important technical as well as legislative and political advances. Though the industry has its origins in the early 1960s, soon after the beginning of the Space Age, private companies did not begin conducting launches into space until the 1980s, and it was not until the 21st century that multiple companies began privately developing and operating launch vehicles and spacecraft in earnest.
An expendable launch system is a launch vehicle that can be launched only once, after which its components are either destroyed during reentry or discarded in space. ELVs typically consist of several rocket stages that are discarded sequentially as their fuel is exhausted and the vehicle gains altitude and speed. As of 2022, most satellites and human spacecraft are currently launched on ELVs. ELVs are simpler in design than reusable launch systems and therefore may have a lower production cost. Furthermore, an ELV can use its entire fuel supply to accelerate its payload, offering greater payloads. ELVs are proven technology in widespread use for many decades.
Space tourism is human space travel for recreational purposes. There are several different types of space tourism, including orbital, suborbital and lunar space tourism.
Spaceflight is an application of astronautics to fly objects, usually spacecraft, into or through outer space, either with or without humans on board. Most spaceflight is uncrewed and conducted mainly with spacecraft such as satellites in orbit around Earth, but also includes space probes for flights beyond Earth orbit. Such spaceflight operate either by telerobotic or autonomous control. The more complex human spaceflight has been pursued soon after the first orbital satellites and has reached the Moon and permanent human presence in space around Earth, particularly with the use of space stations. Human spaceflight programs include the Soyuz, Shenzhou, the past Apollo Moon landing and the Space Shuttle programs. Other current spaceflight are conducted to the International Space Station and to China's Tiangong Space Station.
A spaceport or cosmodrome is a site for launching or receiving spacecraft, by analogy to a seaport for ships or an airport for aircraft. The word spaceport, and even more so cosmodrome, has traditionally been used for sites capable of launching spacecraft into orbit around Earth or on interplanetary trajectories. However, rocket launch sites for purely sub-orbital flights are sometimes called spaceports, as in recent years new and proposed sites for suborbital human flights have been frequently referred to or named "spaceports". Space stations and proposed future bases on the Moon are sometimes called spaceports, in particular if intended as a base for further journeys.
Human spaceflight programs have been conducted, started, or planned by multiple countries and companies. Until the 21st century, human spaceflight programs were sponsored exclusively by governments, through either the military or civilian space agencies. With the launch of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of human spaceflight programs – commercial human spaceflight – arrived. By the end of 2022, three countries and one private company (SpaceX) had successfully launched humans to Earth orbit, and two private companies had launched humans on a suborbital trajectory.
The Space Age is a period encompassing the activities related to the space race, space exploration, space technology, and the cultural developments influenced by these events, beginning with the launch of Sputnik 1 on October 4, 1957, and continuing to the present.
Private spaceflight refers to spaceflight developments that are not conducted by a government agency, such as NASA or ESA.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. commonly referred to as SpaceX, is an American spacecraft manufacturer, launch service provider, defense contractor and satellite communications company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. The company was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and ultimately developing a sustainable colony on Mars. The company currently operates the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets along with the Dragon and Starship spacecraft.
A launch vehicle is typically a rocket-powered vehicle designed to carry a payload from Earth's surface or lower atmosphere to outer space. The most common form is the ballistic missile-shaped multistage rocket, but the term is more general and also encompasses vehicles like the Space Shuttle. Most launch vehicles operate from a launch pad, supported by a launch control center and systems such as vehicle assembly and fueling. Launch vehicles are engineered with advanced aerodynamics and technologies, which contribute to high operating costs.
Falcon 9 is a partially reusable medium-lift launch vehicle that can carry cargo and crew into Earth orbit, designed, manufactured and launched by American aerospace company SpaceX. It can also be used as an expendable heavy-lift launch vehicle. The first Falcon 9 launch was on 4 June 2010. The first Falcon 9 commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) launched on 8 October 2012. In 2020 it became the first commercial rocket to launch humans to orbit and remains the only such vehicle. It is the only U.S. rocket certified for transporting humans to the ISS. In 2022, it became the U.S. rocket with the most launches in history and with the best safety record, having suffered just one flight failure.
United Launch Alliance, LLC, commonly referred to as ULA, is an American aerospace manufacturer, defense contractor and launch service provider that manufactures and operates rockets that launch spacecraft into Earth orbit and on trajectories to other bodies in the Solar System. ULA also designed and builds the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage for the Space Launch System (SLS).
Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) was a NASA program to coordinate the development of vehicles for the delivery of crew and cargo to the International Space Station by private companies. The program was announced on January 18, 2006 and successfully flew all cargo demonstration flights by September 2013, when the program ended.
Spaceflight began in the 20th century following theoretical and practical breakthroughs by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Robert H. Goddard, and Hermann Oberth. First successful large-scale rocket programs were initiated in Nazi Germany by Wernher von Braun. The Soviet Union took the lead in the post-war Space Race, launching the first satellite, the first man and the first woman into orbit. The United States caught up with, and then passed, their Soviet rivals during the mid-1960s, landing the first men on the Moon in 1969. In the same period, France, the United Kingdom, Japan and China were concurrently developing more limited launch capabilities.
SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 1 was the first orbital spaceflight of the Dragon cargo spacecraft, and the second overall flight of the Falcon 9 rocket manufactured by SpaceX. It was also the first demonstration flight for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The primary mission objectives were to test the orbital maneuvering and reentry of the Dragon capsule. The mission also aimed to test fixes to the Falcon 9 rocket, particularly the unplanned roll of the first stage that occurred during flight 1. Liftoff occurred on 8 December 2010 at 15:43 UTC.
Dragon 2 is a class of partially reusable spacecraft developed and manufactured by American aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, primarily for flights to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX also launches private missions, such as Inspiration4 and Axiom Space Missions. There are two variants of the Dragon spacecraft: Crew Dragon, a spacecraft capable of ferrying four crewmembers, and Cargo Dragon, a replacement for the original Dragon 1 used to carry freight to and from space. The spacecraft consists of a reusable space capsule and an expendable trunk module. The spacecraft launches atop a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket and the capsule returns to Earth through splashdown.
LandSpace Technology Corporation is a Chinese private space launch provider based in Beijing. It was founded in 2015 by Zhang Changwu.
The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) provides commercially operated crew transportation service to and from the International Space Station (ISS) under contract to NASA, conducting crew rotations between the expeditions of the International Space Station program. American space manufacturer SpaceX began providing service in 2020, using the Crew Dragon spacecraft, and NASA plans to add Boeing when its Boeing Starliner spacecraft becomes operational no earlier than 2025. NASA has contracted for six operational missions from Boeing and fourteen from SpaceX, ensuring sufficient support for ISS through 2030.
The Inspiration4 mission may be the first time a spaceflight crew is comprised entirely of civilians – nongovernment astronauts. There has been a long history of ordinary citizens going to space. In fact, that was NASA's goal at the beginning of the space shuttle era – to fly regular people on a routine basis