While Jeff Bezos' secretive sub-orbital venture continues to play catch-up in the commercial race to space, SpaceX, brainchild of Pay Pal co-founder Elon Musk (a partner in Paul Allen's new space company, building history's largest aircraft), has several new launches in the works: It's set to blast off Saturday on the first privately funded mission to the International Space Station and has sent ex-U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton on a separate mission to lobby for government support.
Lobbying records show SpaceX spent $240,000 on K&L Gates and four other firms the first quarter of this year to influence legislative support in D.C. Though the crop of new commercial space ventures involves considerable private investment, much of the funding has and will come from taxpayers.
It's a wild new frontier for America's billionaires. Musk's California-based SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies) also announced last week it was conducting a joint marketing effort with Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas (part of the Boeing Commercial spacecraft effort) to offer passenger rides on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft to Bigelow "habitats" orbiting the earth.
Allen's new Stratolaunch Systems, meanwhile, moves forward to build history's largest airplane that will launch a sub-orbital space craft. The air-launch system will supposedly make space access safer and more cost-effectiveness. Allen has partnered with aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan to create the launch plane and with Musk's SpaceX to build a multi-stage booster.
Bezos, however, continues to keep his Kent-based Blue Origin progress under wraps, though as best can be told he's lagging behind the others with his private space-travel venture. But Space.com did lift the veil slightly last week, reporting Bezos' firm has completed wind tunnel testing of its next-generation craft, simply called the "Space Vehicle." It would transport up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station.
The testing was conducted as part of Blue Origin's partnership with NASA, writes Leonard David, under the agency's Commercial Crew Development program, which awarded Bezos $22 million in 2011 to develop the vehicle.
Here's what it looks like:
"Our Space Vehicle's innovative biconic shape provides greater cross-range and interior volume than traditional capsules without the weight penalty of winged spacecraft," Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson said in a statement.