There have also been proposals for single stage to orbit systems. Single stage to orbit vehicles would theoretically be less costly to develop and operate than comparable multistage launchers, but would not be able to launch as much payload per unit of gross liftoff weight due to the mass fraction advantages of multistage rockets.
Many see it as unfortunate that most "modern" orbital expendables are derived from ballistic missiles, as these missiles were built to Cold War specs and with Cold War budgets, and argue that this makes for horrendously expensive launch vehicles. A prime example of this is the Titan IV, probably the costliest per-unit launch vehicle in history (perhaps following the Space Shuttle).
On the other hand, reusable launchers have to be built more robustly and thus carry extra dry weight to orbit, and require recovery systems, and thus everything else being equal (to a similarly constructed expendable), would have a very much smaller payload. Reusable launchers would thus not necessarily be enormously cheaper.
From the beginning of the Shuttle program until the Challenger disaster in 1986, it was the policy of the United States that NASA be the public-sector provider of U.S. launch capacity to the world market. Initially NASA subsidized satellite launches with the intention of eventually pricing Shuttle service for the commercial market at long-run marginal cost.
On October 30, 1984, United States President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Commercial Space Launch Act. This enabled an American industry of private operators of expendable launch systems. Prior to the signing of this law, all commercial satellite launches in the United States were limited to NASA's Space Shuttle.
On November 5, 1990, United States President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Launch Services Purchase Act. The Act, in a complete reversal of the earlier Space Shuttle monopoly, ordered NASA to purchase launch services for its primary payloads from commercial providers whenever such services are required in the course of its activities.
The Russian government sold part of its stake in RSC Energia to private investors in 1994. Energia together with Khrunichev constituted most of the Russian manned space program. In 1997, the Russian government sold off enough of its share to lose the majority position.
Since 1995 Khrunichev's Proton rocket is marketed through International Launch Services while the Soyuz rocket is marketed via Starsem. Energia builds the Soyuz rocket and owns part of the Sea Launch project which flies the Ukrainian Zenit rocket.
In 2003 Arianespace joined with Boeing Launch Services and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to create the Launch Services Alliance. In 2005, continued weak commercial demand for EELV launches drove Lockheed Martin and Boeing to propose a joint venture called the United Launch Alliance to monopolize the United States government launch market.
Today many commercial space transportation companies offer launch services to satellite companies and government space organizations around the world. In 2005 there were 18 total commercial launches and 37 non-commercial launches. Russia flew 44% of commercial orbital launches, while Europe had 28% and the United States had 6%.