In a little more than a year from now, late 2017 or early 2018, the first commercial manned space flight will take place as either Boeing or Space-X launch their first manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
There’s much more to come. Last week in a news conference NASA’s deputy associate administrator Bill Hill discussed NASA’s goal of turning over control of the ISS to a commercial firm(s) on or around 2024.
NASA’s plan is to support private investment in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), private development of the infrastructure of Space between Earth’s surface and LEO while NASA concentrates on it’s program of exploration to Mars, Asteroids and back to the Moon.
Other corporations are also investing in the colonization of LOE, that’s what it is really. Orbital Sciences, Blue Origin and Sierra Nevada are developing manned spacecraft while Bigelow has already launched an inflatable habitation module which is currently undergoing testing at the ISS.
The question of course is whether these companies can make a profit in space? For the next decade or so these Space-X and the others will be heavily if not exclusively dependent on NASA for orders. There’s been a lot of talk about space tourism or mining asteroids but it’s hard to see those industries providing the billions of dollars the commercialization of LEO will require.
The next decade will see a lot of hard work, a lot of plans that won’t fulfill their promise but by 2025 or so we should see the beginnings of the real colonization of Space.