How many new manned spacecraft are currently in development?

How many companies and agencies are building vehicles to take humans into space?

The Dream Chaser is seen by some as the true replacement for the shuttle

SNC’s Dream Chaser spaceplane passed some key tests in early August 2013

At least ten new manned spacecraft are currently in development. A variety of national and private space agencies are working on new spacecraft to take humans not only in to Earth orbit, but also into deep space as well.

The busiest nation with these goals in mind is currently the USA. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, NASA allocated funds to private companies to enable them to begin the development of a number of spacecraft that could one day be responsible for taking astronauts intro Earth orbit.

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, while it currently only carries cargo, was designed from the outset to carry humans and will eventually be upgraded into a manned vehicle called DragonRider, capable of taking seven people into space. Similarly, Boeing is working on its own capsule, called the CST-100, which will also be used to take a crew of seven into orbit.

The Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), meanwhile, is hard at work on a seven-seater spaceplane called Dream Chaser that – like the Space Shuttle – will launch on a rocket before gliding back to Earth when its mission is complete. NASA is, of course, also working on its own Orion spacecraft to take humans beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since 1972. You can expect to see all these spacecraft fly before the decade is out.

Outside the USA, Russia is believed to be working on an upgraded version of its Soyuz spacecraft, with some reports suggesting it may be planning a vehicle with deep space capabilities. China also has its eye on journeys beyond low Earth orbit, with a manned lunar mission thought to be on the cards with an as-of-yet unknown spacecraft. In Britain, the private company Reaction Engines Limited is hard at work on its revolutionary Skylon spaceplane that would be capable of taking dozens of people into low Earth orbit.

There are also three suborbital vehicles in development; Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and XCOR’s Lynx spaceplane will take paying customers briefly into space with flights scheduled to begin next year, while Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle could be used for scientific payloads when it comes into operation in the coming years.

Image courtesy of NASA/Ken Ulbrich/SNC

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