The four most powerful government space agencies are currently NASA, Roscosmos, ESA and CNSA.
- Nasa's recent plans to send humans back to the moon by 2024 will further reaffirm their presence at the top of the space food chain. Their tentative plans to land humans on Mars in the 2030's and the establishment of the lunar Gateway will give them dominance in deep space exploration.
- Russia's monopoly of transport to the ISS via the Soyuz rocket has made them a world space power. Their pursuit of a new heavy-lift vehicle, Angara, will also increase their influence. in the future, the stated top priority of Roscosmos will be to establish a moon colony, which they plan to accomplish by 2040.
- The European Space Agency has many current planetary and earth science missions in use, most notably ExoMars, Mars Express, and CryoSat. Future missions include ExoMars RSP, a Mars rover, Plato, which will discover exoplanets, and a solar orbiter. The ESA regularly sends astronauts to the ISS from Canada, Germany, France etc.
- CNSA is China's agency for space exploration. They recently landed the Chang'e 4 mission, a mission to explore the far side of the moon to learn more about the chemistry of the moon. Information is hard to come by due to state-controlled media, but CNSA looks to further its lunar presence in the coming years.
The other, newer side to the space is the private companies that are sprouting up and almost competing with longstanding government agencies. The likes of SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Rocket Lab are creating cheaper, faster, and in some cases reusable rockets to compete not only with governments but with each other.
- SpaceX is the most established and the most trusted company in the group. Its Falcon Heavy rocket is the most powerful rocket in the world, and the boosters can be landed and reused. This makes spaceflight much cheaper and attainable for smaller companies, albeit still very expensive. SpaceX has partnered with NASA in the commercial crew program to send astronauts up to the ISS from US soil for the first time since the shuttle. Their Crew and Cargo Dragons have also made several trips to the ISS already. SpaceX is by far the most innovative, exciting company of this group.
- I view Blue Origin as the little brother of SpaceX. On the rise, but not close yet. Blue Origin has created both the New Shepard and the New Glenn, which are reusable rockets that are claimed to drive down costs and increase availability for customers. The NS and NG rockets have a capsule on top to transport cargo and eventually humans for short flights in space. The New Glenn is Blue Origin's Falcon Heavy, a heavy-lift reusable launch vehicle. Blue Origin excites me because they seem more dedicated to reusability than SpaceX, and the New Glenn will be a monster of a rocket.
- Rocket Lab is a small company with headquarters in Huntington Beach, California. The company is mainly involved in flying satellites to LEO, with 25 already launched at this time. Their Electron rocket is a small but frequent rocket that can carry a maximum payload of 225 kg. Rocket Lab is still a relatively small company compared to others on this list, but it is making space accessible to more companies and people than ever before. Rocket Lab and others like it are the future of small, commercial spaceflight.
Yes, I know this isn't a comprehensive list of the spaceflight industry. ULA is a huge company that is regularly trusted by NASA to launch payloads and the Indian Space Agency just successfully tested their anti-satellite weapon. There are many more private companies working to bring space closer to humans than ever before, so maybe one day you'll be on a rocket yourself.