Wildest Private Deep-Space Mission Ideas: A Countdown
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Destination: SpaceDeep space isn't just for NASA and other space agencies anymore.
A number of private companies and nonprofit organizations are planning missions to the moon, asteroids, and even Mars. Here's a brief primer.
FIRST STOP: Mars One, Red Planet Reality TV
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Mars One: Reality TVNetherlands-based nonprofit organization Mars One aims to land four astronauts on Mars in 2023. The company plans to stage a global reality-TV event around the one-way mission, with cameras following every step of the way from astronaut selection to the settlers' first years on the Red Planet. [Gallery: How Mars One's Martian Colony Project Works]
NEXT: Golden Spike to the Moon
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Golden Spike: Fly Me to the MoonA company called Golden Spike plans to start flying roundtrip missions to the moon by 2020. The firm will charge $1.5 billion for each mission, which will land two astronauts on the lunar surface and return them safely to Earth. [How Golden Spike's Moon Landings Will Work (Infographic)]
NEXT: Excalibur Almaz Space Stations
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Excalibur Almaz: Back in the U.S.S.R.'s EquipmentExcalibur Almaz, located on the Isle of Man, took the bold step of purchasing Soviet-era spacecraft from Russia to retrofit into vehicles for trips around the moon. So far the company owns four Soviet Almaz program three-crew capsules and two Salyut-class space station pressure vessels. [Gallery: Private Space Stations of the Future]
NEXT: Shackleton Energy Company & the Moon
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Shackleton Energy Company: Let's WorkUnlike the space tourism companies, Texas-based Shackleton Energy Company intends to mine the water ice in permanently shadowed lunar craters. Shackleton wants to convert this ice to rocket fuel , then sell the propellant from in-space "gas stations." [Gallery: 3D-Printing Future Moon Bases]
NEXT: Google Lunar X Prize Competitors
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Google Lunar X Prize Competitors: Space RaceThe Google Lunar X Prize challenges teams to land a robot on the lunar surface, have it travel at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) and send data and images back to Earth. 23 teams currently seek $30 million in prize money. [Gallery: Meet the Google Lunar X Prize Teams]
Some of the Lunar X Prize teams aim to use the competition as a springboard to bigger things. Moon Express, for example, plans to extract resources from the moon eventually.
NEXT: Tapping Into Planetary Resources
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Planetary Resources: Digging in the DirtPlanetary Resources plans to build a fleet of asteroid-mining robots. The company counts Google execs Larry Page and Eric Schmidt among its financial backers, and its co-founders, Peter Diamandis and Eric Anderson, are pioneers in the private spaceflight industry. [Gallery: Planetary Resources' Plan for Asteroid Mining
NEXT: Bigelow Aerospace's Inflatable Space Modules
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Bigelow Aerospace's Inflatable Space ModulesThe Las Vegas-based Bigelow Aerospace has set its sights on privately built space stations made of inflatable modules that could form the core of a deep-space exploration fleet. The company has already flown two unmanned prototype modules, called Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and signed a $17.8 million deal with NASA to provide an inflatable room for the International Space Station as a demonstration of its technology. [Gallery: Private Space Stations by Bigelow Aerospace]
Company founder Robert Bigelow has also unveiled a grand vision for Bigelow Aerospace's spacecraft, a plan that would use the inflatable space rooms as a potential deep-space outpost near the moon, or even a manned base on the lunar surface.
NEXT: Asteroids and Deep Space Industries
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Deep Space Industries: FireflyDeep Space Industries is the brainchild of private space veterans Rick Tumlinson and David Gump, among others. DSI follows Planetary Resources in the jump into the asteroid-mining gold rush. The company plans to start with a fleet of small, unmanned spacecraft called Fireflies in 2015 to assess nearby space rocks' stores of water, hydrogen and other volatiles, as well as metals. [Gallery: Asteroid Mining by Deep Space Industries
NEXT: B612 Foundation to Protect Earth
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B612 Foundation: Scoping Out the SceneThe B612 Foundation — which takes its name from the classic children's book "The Little Prince" — is building a private deep-space telescope called Sentinel, which is slated to launch in 2018. Sentinel should find 500,000 near-Earth asteroids in less than six years of operation, B612 officials say. Former NASA astronaut Ed Lu serves as chairman and CEO of the nonprofit organization.[Sentinel Space Telescope Asteroid Mission in Pictures]
NEXT: Inspiration Mars
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Inspiration Mars: Married to the MissionOriginal space tourist Dennis Tito spearheads the nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation's "Mission for America," which aims to launch two spaceflyers (preferably a married couple) on a roundtrip Mars journey in January 2018. [Inspiration Mars: Private Mars Voyage in 2018 (Gallery)]
The spacecraft would just fly around the Red Planet, not touch down.
NEXT: SpaceX's Red Dragon Mars Flight
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SpaceX Mars Mission: People MoverPrivate spaceflight firm SpaceX is looking farther afield than low-Earth orbit. Elon Musk, the billionaire founder and CEO of SpaceX, wants to establish a Mars colony of up to 80,000 people by ferrying explorers to the Red Planet for perhaps $500,000 a trip. A new reusable rocket may serve as the vehicle, rumored to bear the name MCT, for Mass Cargo Transport or Mars Colony Transport. [The Rockets and Spaceships of SpaceX (Photos)]