Private companies are in space to stay. Another step in that direction will soon take place when the first private enterprise spacecraft will dock with a space station this September.
The Cygnus is a privately developed spacecraft that will dock with the International Space Station and will thus pave the way for nongovernmental solutions to deliver cargo to the International Space Station.
The Cygnus has been developed by Orbital Sciences and the spacecraft will be sent into space using the Antares rocket, also developed by Orbital Sciences. The company was awarded 1,9 billion dollars as a NASA contract was signed last year to provide ISS with at least eight resupply shipments. If this demonstration flight is proven successful, the first of these shipments will start off at the end of this year.
Orbital Sciences is not the only private company contracted by NASA however. As the federal space agency have also contracted the firm Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) with a contract worth 1,6 billion dollars, to provide NASA with 12 unmanned cargo missions to the orbiting space lab that is the ISS.
Since NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, the agency is now relying on private companies to keep the space station fully supplied. And presently the Russian Soyuz spacecraft presents the only possibility to transport astronauts to the ISS. But U.S. firms like Orbital and SpaceX are expected to take on crewed missions in the future.