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12 Space Missions to Watch in 2012

Virgin Galactic Lights Rocket Engine

Virgin Galactic/Clay Center Observatory

The suborbital space tourism company Virgin Galactic created by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson is set to make a big leap in 20120. Virgin Galactic plans to fly paying passengers on suborbital joy rides to the edge of space and back, initially at $200,000 a pop.

So far, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft have only made unpowered glide tests. But experts anticipate seeing the SpaceShipTwo vehicle perform its first powered flight test in 2012.

NEXT: Dragons & Swans Visit Space Station

Dragons & Swans Visit Space Station

SpaceX

In 2012, the first private vehicle is set to make its maiden voyage to the to the International Space Station. The Dragon space capsule developed by Hawthorne, Calif., company Space Exploration Technology (SpaceX) is scheduled to launch atop the company's Falcon 9 rocket Feb. 7.

When it comes within range, the astronauts aboard the station will grab hold of it with the station's robotic arm and berth it to the outpost.

Another private spacecraft, the Cygnus capsule being developed by Orbital Sciences Corp., of Dulles, Va., is also set to make its debut in 2012. Cygnus is due to fly atop Orbital's Taurus 2 rocket in May.

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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.