Lockheed with the Athena, Orbital Sciences with the Antares and SpaceX with an upgraded Falcon 9 have formally stated their intent to certify their boosters for national security missions. Once certified, they will be allowed to compete for launches. These could begin in 2014.
While Europe sees India and Russia as its main competitors in the future, it is SpaceX that continues to shake up the market. The company conducted its first two resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012 using the Falcon 9 booster and Dragon cargo spacecraft, and is on contract to fly 20,000 kg (44,000 lb.) to the ISS through 2015.
SpaceX is upgrading the Dragon to carry astronauts and plans its first demonstration flight in mid-2015, with a goal of beginning commercial crew transportation services to support the ISS in 2017. SpaceX was one of three companies awarded contracts to develop vehicles under NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) program. The others are Boeing with the CST-100 capsule and Sierra Nevada with the Dream Chaser reusable lifting-body vehicle, both launched by Atlas V.
CCiCap is a commercial adjunct to NASA's plan to develop the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) to support human spaceflight missions and replace the space shuttle, which was retired in 2012. The SLS is intended to launch the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle—development of which began under the now-canceled Constellation program—and other equipment into deep space.
A first uncrewed flight of the SLS is planned for 2017, followed in 2021 by the first launch of the Orion capsule and up to four astronauts. The SLS will use RS-25 engines from the shuttle and the J-2X upper-stage engine developed for the canceled Ares I booster. The initial 70,000 kg-payload version of the SLS will use two shuttle-style solid-rocket boosters. The evolved version, with up to a 130,000-kg payload, will use advanced liquid or solid boosters.
As NASA develops the SLS, Russia and China will be the only countries able to transport humans into space. While Russia continues to fly the Soyuz to ferry crews to the ISS, China is developing a manned space program that includes the Shenzhou capsule (four crewed flights to 2012), Tiangong laboratory (first launch in 2011), and a space station that is planned to be launched in sections between 2015 and 2020.
Virgin Galactic is hoping—pending successful powered flight tests—to start passenger flights with its SpaceShipTwo by the end of 2013. XCOR Aerospace plans to begin flight tests of its two-seat Lynx in early 2013, and flights carrying tourists and small science payloads by late 2013.
Virgin Galactic also will market SpaceShipTwo for sub-orbital science missions and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft for small-satellite launch services. Announced in July, the LauncherOne air-launched booster is designed to carry 100-kg smallsats into Earth orbit for under $10 million, beginning in 2016. Both Surrey Satellite Technology and Sierra Nevada are developing satellite buses optimized for LauncherOne.