Beyond SpaceX: Five companies seeking to change space travel

During the past 10 years, Presidents George W. Bush and Obama have directed NASA to turn the job of transporting cargo and crew to the space station over to the private sector. As that process gathers pace, here is a list of the key players.

2. Orbital Sciences Corporation

Orbital Sciences Corporation
An animation of Cygnus, Orbital Sciences' cargo craft, approaching the International Space Station.

Orbital Sciences, founded in 1982, is building its Antares rocket to deliver cargo to the space station and perform commercial satellite launches. Using up to three stages, the rocket is designed to carry up to 6.1 metric tons to low-Earth orbit.

In addition, the company is building a pressurized cargo craft, dubbed Cygnus, to ride atop Antares. It is designed to carry up to 2.7 metric tons of cargo to the space station. Unlike SpaceX's Dragon capsule, designed to return cargo to the ground as well as deliver it to the space station, Cygnus is a one-and-done craft, like the unmanned resupply craft the Russians, Japanese, and Europeans use.

In all, Orbital Sciences has a stable of four rockets, including its Taurus ground-launched rocket and its Pegasus rocket, which is launched from the underside of a modified Lockheed L-1011 airliner. Pegasus was first launched in 1990 and can loft hardware weighing up to 1,000 pounds.

The company plans its first Antares test launch from NASA's facility at Wallops Island, Va., and its first space-station resupply run toward the end of 2012.

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