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When most people think about space and engineering, they immediately imagine the modern space shuttle. The black and white coloring and two-wing design is seared into the memory of most Americans as humanity’s first reusable spacecraft.

“Between the first launch on April 12, 1981, and the final landing on July 21, 2011, NASA’s space shuttle fleet — Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — flew 135 missions, helped construct the International Space Station and inspired generations,” explains NASA.gov.

Shuttle missions have now been retired for several years, and many space and engineering enthusiasts wonder what’s next for the exploration of this final frontier. NASA is determined to develop spacecraft that will allow them to send human beings even further into the solar system, but unlike during the development of the space shuttle, they’ve got some private competition.

Below are six private companies working on new ways to carry humans and cargo into space. They represent the best and brightest opportunities for graduates of our aeronautical engineering courses, so get to know them well!

1. Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX)

Since 2002, SpaceX has been a clear leader in the quest for more advanced rockets and spacecraft. Founded by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and the Tesla Motor Company, engineers at SpaceX are responsible for the creation of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rockets. “The Falcon 9 rocket is about 180 feet (57 meters) tall and is a two-stage booster. The Dragon capsule is a solar-powered spacecraft designed to be grappled by the space station’s robotic arm and installed on a docking port,” explains Space.com.

Interested in a job at SpaceX? Our Onsite Aeronautical Engineering Courses can help to prepare you for the specific demands of an engineering job with this fast-moving company.

2. Blue Origin

These days it seems that every successful entrepreneur wants to have their own piece of the space exploration pie. Founded by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin has been far more secretive than SpaceX when it comes to their ultimate space and engineering goals.

So far we know two things for certain: 1) Blue Origin secured $3.7 million from NASA in the hopes of developing an astronaut escape system and composite space capsule prototype as part of its commercial crew program. 2) In 2015, Blue Origin released a statement reporting that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas. Since then, they’ve completed more successful launches and relaunches, proving that the New Shepard is in fact reusable.

While SpaceX and Blue Origin are clear frontrunners in the quest for advanced space exploration technologies, they’re not the only ones to keep an eye on. Stay tuned for the continuation of this post that will explore three more private space and engineering companies!

And while you’re waiting, why not explore our growing list of space and engineering training programs that can help to propel you into the exciting career you’ve always wanted?