Private spaceflight: up, up, and away

January 2, 2012 | Source: IEEE Spectrum
SpaceShip Two

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo, attached to its carrier, WhiteKnightTwo, should be making test flights this year (credit: Virgin Galactic)

In 2012 privately funded human spaceflight will advance from promises and one-off stunts to serious flight-testing of spaceships.

Governments will be the biggest customers, with unmanned systems possibly docking with the International Space Station (ISS) this year and perhaps eventually taking the place of the retired U.S. space shuttles.

Meanwhile, spacecraft designed to give well-heeled tourists a thrill will be firing up their rockets, letting their passengers enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness, and gliding in for landings.

Indeed, this could be the year that spaceflight moves beyond the 1960s inspirational phrase “man in space” toward a more inclusive one: “Any man or woman in space.”