Most of my space markets page is about the demand side of the space launch business. This page is about the supply side. In both cases the criteria are the same: price and reliability are the biggest ones but others, like various aspects of customer-friendliness, often enter in. I don't list all vendors or startups.
Price tends to be about US$10000-15000 per kilogram to LEO and reliability tends to be about 90-99% (in trying to evaluate reliability based on historical performance, beware of the small sample sizes).
I guess I'm defining ambitious as, say, $2000-5000/kg to LEO (or more per pound for the smallest launchers, but that is true of Pegasus and company as well). Reliability probably can't get _too_ much better than 99%.
Beal Aerospace was a 1998–2000 startup which spent some hundreds of millions developing a Big Dumb Booster. See "Beal Aerospace to develop BA-2 rocket, bypassing BA-1", Beal Aerospace News Release, reprinted in Florida Today Space Online, 24 Jun 1998. An earlier article is "Beal Bank owner starting rocket firm in Frisco", Banking and Finance Journal, 22 Sep 1997. Or for an update see Other News, SpaceViews, 22 May 1999 - they are behind schedule and over budget.
A year later: Beal Aerospace Lays Off Workers, Restructures Rocket Program, SpaceViews, 29 Sep 2000. Finally pulled the plug with "Beal Aerospace to cease operations", Floriday Today Space Online, 24 Oct 2000, Statement from Andrew Beal Regarding Cease of Operations by Beal Aerospace, spaceref.com (or the same from spaceandtech.com ).
Nothing much happening with this as of 2007. The following is historical.
Circa 1996, there were a set of reusable startups which were roughly similar to each other in terms of goals and timetables. Most of them aimed to fly around the year 2000, plus or minus a year or two. Obviously, price and reliability were more uncertain than for systems which flew, but generally they aimed for about $2000/kg to LEO and reliability anywhere from the ballpark of the expendables (for example, most use existing expendable upper stages) to much higher. As for what happened, quick summary is that they planned on the demand for launches continuing to increase as it had in 1993-1996 or so, but instead the demand decreased and the telecommunications stock bubble finally burst in 2000.
The most notable:
Here are some articles in more or less chronological order. Note the schedule slips:
Have raised $6 million according to Space Access Update #74, Space Access Society, 31 Aug 1997. Aiming for first launch in 1999 according to "Commercial Space in the 21st Century: Revolutionary or Evolutionary?", SpaceViews, 1 Mar 1998.
Have raised $30 million according to The State and Fate of Small RLVs: A Report on the Space Access '99 Conference, SpaceViews, 8 May 1999.
Lots of activity for suborbital tourism around 2004– with Virgin Galactic and others. A ticket price around $100k-$200k per person for a joyride seems to what they talk about charging.
For payload to the lunar surface, take payload to Low Earth Orbit and divide by 7 (source? will depend some on the hardware but this should be a good rule of thumb), and then add in the cost of the upper stage (perhaps set it to zero for back-of-the-envelope purposes).
There are plenty of concepts which might be promising but which are far enough from realization that details like cost and reliability are harder to estimate.
This page is part of Jim Kingdon's space markets page.