- NASA hires contractors to build components for rockets and other space vehicles.
- General Dynamics is one of the largest space and exploration companies, and it’s also one of the oldest. Founded in 1899 By John Philip Holland, the company got its start building the US Navy’s first submarines.
- As one of the world’s largest space and exploration companies, Boeing works closely with NASA on many of its high-priority projects. Currently, the defense contractor helps build the propulsion technology for the Space Launch System.
- Founded in 2016 by former NASA astronauts, Astra successfully reached orbit in five years, becoming the quickest company in history to build a rocket capable of making it to space.
If you think about space exploration, your thoughts might go straight to NASA. However, it’s easy to ignore that the space agency doesn’t build most of its rockets. NASA hires contractors for the job. So, who is NASA hiring to launch their experiments into space? Continue reading to learn more about the largest space and exploration companies that aren’t associated with the government.
10: General Dynamics Corporation
General Dynamics isn’t just one of the largest space and exploration companies, it’s also one of the oldest. Founded in 1899 By John Philip Holland, the company got its start building the US Navy’s first submarines. Since then, they’ve established themselves as a primary defense contractor, with total equity of over $17 billion and 100,000 employees.
General Dynamics has four divisions, one of which focuses on aerospace technology. Using its depth of experience from building the Atlas rocket family, which helped launch missions to Mercury, the company continues to propel the spaceflight industry. They’re currently helping NASA communicate with the Perseverance rover on Mars.
9: Virgin Galactic
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Virgin Galactic, a spaceflight company established by billionaire Richard Branson, is one of the newer companies in the industry. Established in 2005, Virgin Galactic teamed up with renowned aerospace scientist Burt Rutan to take spaceflight in another direction; space tourism.
The company hired Scaled Composites, an aerospace design subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, to design the spacecraft and launch vehicle. After more than a decade, they finished the design for SpaceShipTwo. Richard Branson and esteemed guests took the inaugural flight and became the first non-government people to go to space. Branson plans to expand the business to other wealthy investors, selling tickets to space for $250,000 per seat.
8: Astra Space
A fairly new company, Astra is set to become the fastest-growing spaceflight company in the country. It was founded in 2016 by former NASA researchers with lofty ambitions. They started building rockets before people even knew they existed. When they went public, a rocket was nearly ready to reach orbit. Within five years, Astra successfully reached orbit, becoming the quickest company in history to build a rocket capable of making it to space.
Although Astra Space has less than 100 employees, it has earned contracts with the US government. Their first demonstration won them over $2 billion for research purposes. The company now focuses on its next-generation vehicle, which can deliver payloads to multiple points in space.
7: Sierra Nevada Space Systems
Sierra Nevada got its start in 1963, building airplanes for private companies and government agencies. Their experience earned them work with NASA, modifying surveillance and communication systems for their aircraft. The company is now one of the major utility manufacturers of aerospace technology in the US.
The company is working on multiple projects and is the primary contractor for Virgin Galactic’s rocket engines. They’re also designing several spacecraft for NASA and the Air Force. On top of all that, SNC has plans for a space drone and a skytruck.
6: Blue Origin
What seemed to have started as a friendly competition between billionaires became a full-scale endeavor. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, started Blue Origin in 2000 and set his sights on a suborbital vehicle capable of bringing people to space. While he didn’t win the race (Branson beat him by 9 days), Bezos continues to design rockets for more purposes than space tourism.
Blue Origin has several projects on the list. Not only are they improving on their suborbital vehicle, but they’re also designing a two-stage orbital (New Glenn), a lunar lander (Blue Moon), and reusable parts (Project Jarvis). The company positions itself to compete with SpaceX in the coming years.
5: Northrop Grumman Corporation
Northrop Grumman is the merger company of two century-old aircraft manufacturers. Having designed some of the prominent fighter jets in WWII, the company became an important defense contractor for the United States. Northrop Grumman has $13 billion in equity and almost 100,000 employees.
The company is renowned for its B-2 Spirit bomber, the only stealth bomber in the world. But beyond its fighter planes, Northrop Grumman also plays a prominent role in spaceflight technology. It was the lead developer of the James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in 2021 to supersede the Hubble. It’s also working directly with NASA to design rocket boosters for the Space Launch System.
4: Lockheed Martin Corporation
Lockheed has built aircraft since the early 1920s. Their Vega aircraft was used by Amelia Earhart for her record flight across the Atlantic Ocean. The company is one of the country’s leading contractors for aviation vehicles. Lockheed has $11 billion in shareholder equity and employs 110,000 people.
The company has a space division that aims to design propulsion technology. Their advancements are preferred for the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. But their research is just as important in space exploration as in defense. The company assisted in the building of the Titan family of rockets. They now work closely with Boeing to improve the cost of going into space
3: Raytheon Technologies Corporation – Collins Aerospace Systems
Founded in 1922, Raytheon originally had nothing to do with aeronautics. The company got its start in refrigeration before shifting to electronics. They quickly became the lead developer in radar devices, earning a contract with the United States to build them in WWII. Their work eventually led to the consumer microwave oven.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that Raytheon purchased Beech Aircraft Corporation and entered the aerospace industry. Since then, the company has continued to expand. Raytheon Technologies employs nearly 174,000 people and has $75 billion in equity.
Collins Aerospace, the defense contractor’s subsidiary, heads the design of spaceflight technology. While they support NASA’s communication protocols for the James Webb Telescope, Collins Aerospace has other critical projects underway. Currently, the aerospace company is testing thermoplastic composites, which would reduce the weight and manufacturing costs of spaceflight vehicles.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, who got his start in software development. He found success with his first rocket, the Falcon 1, and the company took off from there. SpaceX went on to make significant advancements in reusable parts and rocket propulsion. With $127 billion in equity and 12,000 employees, SpaceX is among the world’s largest space and exploration companies.
While SpaceX has taken on several projects since its inception, the company keeps its ultimate mission in mind: to colonize Mars. The spaceflight corporation is in the process of building the world’s largest rocket, called Starship. The vehicle can carry 220,000-pound payloads to Lower Earth Orbit (LEO), and other variants can transport more than 100 passengers.
1: Boeing Defense, Space & Security
Founded in 1939 as a division of Boeing, the aerospace and defense company has a long history in space and exploration. They’ve worked with NASA since the government agency’s inception, helping them design the lunar rover, the first stage of Saturn V, and the Space Shuttle, among other vehicles. The division brings in a considerable portion of Boeing’s revenue; with over 50,000 employees, the division makes over $20 billion annually.
As one of the world’s largest space and exploration companies, Boeing works closely with NASA on many of its high-priority projects. Currently, the defense contractor helps build the propulsion technology for the Space Launch System. They also work with Lockheed Martin in a joint venture called United Launch Alliance, which designs the launch vehicles for Starliner.
More Industry Leaders: Further Reading
The largest space and exploration companies lead the industry in propulsion, reusable parts, and equipment. One day, you might find yourself on one of their rockets headed to Mars. But they’re not the only ones changing the landscape of our society. Check out how these other industry leaders are improving technology.
The Largest Private Space Companies
For decades, it has been the dream of many citizens to take a tour of space. Private space companies are making that dream a reality. These companies are providing not only the possibility of trips to space for private citizens, the first of which occurred in 2020 through SpaceX, but also actual settlement in the future. Up until recent years, space research and travel was limited to government-led programs that explored national security, public interest, and other entities to benefit human life on Earth. With private space endeavors, however, citizens, not government employees, are free to make and reach their own personal space goals. Here are some of the largest private space companies:
- Virgin Galactic
- Blue Origin, LLC
- Bigelow Aerospace, Inc.
- The X Prize Foundation
- The Ultrawealthy
- Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems
- Orbital Sciences Corp.
- United Launch Alliance
- Lockheed Martin
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The 10 Largest Space and Exploration Companies In The World, And What They Do FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Who is the best space company in the world?
Because many companies focus on different aspects of spaceflight, no one company is the best. However, SpaceX, Boeing, and many defense contractors make noticeable differences in the industry.
How many space agencies are there in the world?
So many companies are contributing to specific aspects of the space industry that it’s difficult to count. However, there are 77 official government space agencies around the world, that contract all these different companies.
What does Boeing do in space?
Boeing has worked directly with NASA since its beginning. They’ve helped build rovers on the moon and mars and spacecraft for various purposes. They’re currently building the CST-100 Starliner, NASA’s intended spacecraft for the Space Launch System.
How does a space company make money?
Companies like SpaceX earn money by charging government agencies and commercial customers to send rockets, people, and satellites for different purposes into space.
What is the No 1 space company? ›
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX)
The headquarters of this space agency is in Hawthorne, California. NASA is considered the number one space agency globally, But NASA has not been able to make such a rocket to date, which comes back to the earth from space and can be re-used.
This is a list of government agencies engaged in activities related to outer space and space exploration. As of 2022, 77 different government space agencies are in existence, 16 of which have launch capabilities.Who are the leaders in space exploration? ›
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is America's civil space program and the global leader in space exploration.What are the three main space companies? ›
Three companies—Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX—are blazing their own separate paths into space tourism. Space travel is all extremes.What company competes with SpaceX? ›
- ABL Space Systems.
- PD Aerospace.
- Jet Engineering System Solutions.
- Virgin Galactic.
- Blue Origin.
Elon Musk cofounded the electronic payment firm PayPal, and in 2002 he founded SpaceX, a company that makes rockets and spacecraft. He was a major early funder of Tesla, which makes electric cars and batteries, and became its chief executive officer in 2008. He purchased the social media service Twitter in 2022.Who has the most advanced space program? ›
1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA. At the top of the list stands the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and for all the right reasons. NASA is a United States government agency responsible for science and technology in relation to air and space.What is the best space stock to buy? ›
Companies like Virgin Galactic and Rocket Lab are options to play the growth of space exploration if you have a long-term investing horizon and are willing to withstand the volatility of owning unprofitable businesses.Who leads U.S. Space Force? ›
John W. "Jay" Raymond > United States Space Force > Display. A . mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.Who leads the world in space technology? ›
At the top of this list of firms is Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), whose Falcon 9 medium lift launch vehicle, or rocket, is capable of partial reuse through the remarkable feat of autonomously landing in the sea and on the ground.
Who controls the space force? ›
The United States Space Force is a separate and distinct branch of the armed services, organized under the Department of the Air Force in a manner very similar to how the Marine Corps is organized under the Department of the Navy.What is China's NASA called? ›
China National Space Administration (CNSA), Chinese Guojia Hangtianju, Chinese government organization founded in 1993 to manage national space activities. The organization is composed of four departments: General Planning; System Engineering; Science, Technology, and Quality Control; and Foreign Affairs.Which is the richest space company in the world? ›
- 4: Lockheed Martin Corporation. ...
- 3: Raytheon Technologies Corporation – Collins Aerospace Systems. ...
- 2: SpaceX. ...
- 1: Boeing Defense, Space & Security. ...
- More Industry Leaders: Further Reading. ...
- The Largest Private Space Companies. ...
- Up Next…
Last year, three companies — SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic — achieved key feats in space travel previously reserved to countries. They transported astronauts to the International Space Station, flew space enthusiasts into space, delivered cargo to low Earth orbit and developed reusable booster rockets.What are other companies like NASA? ›
NASA competitors include Blue Origin and SpaceX. NASA ranks 1st in Employee Net Promoter Score on Comparably vs its competitors. See below how NASA compares to its competitors with CEO Rankings, Product & Services, NPS, Pricing, Customer Services, Overall Culture Score, eNPS, Gender and Diversity Scores.Is Tesla or SpaceX bigger? ›
By January 2021, Musk's Tesla position, excluding options, had reached $135.3 billion, compared with $18.7 billion for his SpaceX stake, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.Can I buy SpaceX stock? ›
Right now, SpaceX is owned privately by Elon Musk, a few public companies, and many private equity firms. However, as we learned with TikTok stock, there may be a way to invest in SpaceX indirectly. You can become an investor in private companies like Stripe, Reddit, and Instacart.Does Elon Musk own PayPal? ›
How much did Elon Musk sell PayPal for? In 2002, eBay purchased PayPal for $1.5 billion. As the majority shareholder in the company with 11.72 percent of shares, Musk made between $175 million and $180 million from the deal.Is SpaceX better than NASA? ›
As far as rocket technology goes, SpaceX has a clear advantage. But if we're looking at space exploration in its entirety, NASA is dominant. With SpaceX constantly in the media, it's easy to believe that the company could replace NASA. However, spaceflight only makes up a portion of the government organization.What is another company like NASA? ›
NASA competitors include Blue Origin and SpaceX. NASA ranks 1st in Employee Net Promoter Score on Comparably vs its competitors. See below how NASA compares to its competitors with CEO Rankings, Product & Services, NPS, Pricing, Customer Services, Overall Culture Score, eNPS, Gender and Diversity Scores.
Does Elon Musk own a rocket? ›
SpaceX founder Elon Musk. SpaceX's first rocket: Falcon 1. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy.What are SpaceX weaknesses? ›
The weakness of this company is that their profitability relies solely on their ability to launch successfully. The concept of going to space and returning a vessel that is completely reusable is a very difficult task to achieve. There is a high level of uncertainty that surrounds the success of this company.What stock grows the fastest? ›
|Price ($)||EPS Growth Latest Quarter (%)|
|Coterra Energy Inc. (CTRA)||25.33||837.5|
|Performance Food Group Co. (PFGC)||60.75||1,970|
|Tripadvisor Inc. (TRIP)||18.16||1,600|
Key Takeaways. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk doesn't plan to take SpaceX public. According to the company, the short-term demands of shareholders conflict with his long-term ambitions. Although reports suggest SpaceX could spin-off its Starlink satellite business, Musk says he has given no thought to the possibility.Who owns SpaceX stock? ›
Musk owns 42% of SpaceX, according to a document the company filed last week with the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates its Starlink satellite-broadband unit.What is China's version of NASA? ›
China National Space Administration (CNSA), Chinese Guojia Hangtianju, Chinese government organization founded in 1993 to manage national space activities. The organization is composed of four departments: General Planning; System Engineering; Science, Technology, and Quality Control; and Foreign Affairs.Who is SpaceX biggest competitor? ›
SpaceX's competitors and similar companies include Safran Cabin, Avibras, Astra, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin.Who is NASA biggest competition? ›
gov's top 5 competitors in November 2022 are: esa.int, space.com, universetoday.com, kennedyspacecenter.com, and more.