The quest to get to space has been a really huge topic all over the world since the 80s, and while it was earlier pioneered by Easter & Western Governments, in today’s world, it is pioneered by some of the world’s richest billionaires.
The groundwork for the billionaire space race and private spaceflight was arguably laid by Peter Diamandis, an American entrepreneur. In the 1980s, he founded an American national student space society, the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Later, Jeff Bezos became a chapter president of SEDS. In the 1990s, Diamandis, disappointed with the state of space development, decided to spur it on and spark the suborbital space tourism market, by initiating a prize, the X Prize.
This led to Paul Allen becoming involved in the competition, creating the Scaled Composites Tier One platform of SpaceShipOne and White Knight One which won the Ansari X-Prize in the 2000s. The technology of the winning entrant was then licensed by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group as a basis to found Virgin Galactic.
The base techniques of Tier One also form the basis for Stratolaunch Systems of Vulcan Aerospace. The billionaire space race shows the aims of billionaires extend beyond just fulfilling government contracts, with their own gilding of the space age, in extending capabilities and their own luster. Elon Musk has expressed excitement for a new space race.
When the Billionaire Space Race comes up as a topic in today’s world, the first people that come to your mind are; Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, & Richard Branson, in no particular order.
These billionaires, after making huge fortunes for themselves in other industries, have decided to grace humanity’s quest to colonize space with millions of dollars from their individual armoury.
Over the years, the world has enjoyed immensely from the intense competition that these three men have indulged in over the years.
Here’s a quick look at their individual goals;
Richard Branson, the founder/CEO of Virgin Galactic/Virgin Orbit and space tourism, low-cost small orbital launchers, and intercontinental suborbital transit is the first billionaire among the three to actually make it into Space.
His Virgin Galactica made it into Space on the 10th of July, 2021 after over a decade of trials.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic was founded with virtually the same business plan as Blue Origin’s with New Shepard: take paying customers on supersonic flights to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic’s technology looks far different — making use of a winged, rocket-powered spaceplane rather than a vertically launched rocket and capsule — but the short-term goal is practically identical.
Branson set off a wave of speculation that Virgin Galactic had rearranged its test flight plans in order to get Branson to space before Bezos’ flight on July 20.
Richard Branson is taking a big risk going to space
Richard Branson is taking a big risk going to space
Though Branson has long pledged to be the first space baron to actually travel to space, Virgin Galactic has encountered several major hurdles that have set its plans back by years. A tragic mishap during a 2014 test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo killed a co-pilot. And a series of other technical difficulties have had to be ironed out before the company was ready to deem the spacecraft safe enough to fly Branson.
Still, in the Branson vs. Bezos battle, Branson does have one bragging right that Bezos does not: Virgin Galactic has already made people into astronauts. Because the vehicle requires two pilots and has flown some Virgin Galactic employees as crew members on test flights, the company has already made astronauts out of eight people — including four pilots, Branson and a group of Virgin Galactic employees who flew as crew members — whereas every Blue Origin flight thus far has had nobody inside.
Not to mention, Branson has also sent a rocket to orbit. Again, that requires far more speed and rocket power than suborbital trips.
Branson’s Virgin Orbit, which spun off from Virgin Galactic in 2017, sent its first batch of satellites to orbit in January. Though Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne, which takes off from beneath the wing from a Boeing 747 jet, is not nearly as powerful as Musk’s Falcon 9s or Bezos’ planned New Glenn rockets, it is considered an industry leader in a niche race to develop rockets designed specifically for hauling small satellites, or smallsats, to space as they’ve boomed in popularity.
Virgin Galactic also has some bold long-term visions, including creating a suborbital, supersonic jet that can shuttle people between cities at breakneck speeds.
If one billionaire has made a desire not to rush-manufacture rockets as a part of his brand, it’s Bezos. He founded Blue Origin in 2000 — six years after starting Amazon — and gave it the motto “gradatim ferociter,” a Latin phrase that translates to “step by step, ferociously.” The company’s mascot is also a tortoise, paying homage to the tortoise and the hare fable that made the “slow and steady wins the race” mantra a childhood staple.
“Our mascot is the tortoise because we believe slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” Bezos has said, which could be seen as an attempt to position Blue Origin as the anti-SpaceX, which is known to embrace speed and trial-and-error over slow, meticulous development processes.
For years, the company operated in almost complete secrecy. But now it’s goals are quite clear: Bezos, the world’s richest person, wants to eventually send people to live and work in spinning, orbital space colonies to extend human life after Earth reaches a theoretical, far-off energy scarcity crisis. And he started Blue Origin in order to develop cheaper rocket and spacecraft technologies that would be necessary to create such extraterrestrial housing. The company has also laid out plans for a lunar lander and to work alongside NASA and others to establish a moon base.
New Shepard — Blue Origin’s fully autonomous, reusable, suborbital rocket — was intended to be an early step toward creating lunar lander technology, helping to teach the company how to safely land a small spacecraft on the moon. But the company is also parlaying its New Shepard vehicle into a suborbital space tourism business in which it can sell tickets to wealthy thrill-seekers — and that is at the core of the latest news cycle. Bezos and three others will be the first passengers ever to take the high-speed, 11-minute joyride aboard a New Shepard capsule.
And it also goes higher than Branson’s rocket, above the Kàrmàn Line at 100 kilometers (62 miles) altitude, the internationally-recognized border of space, as opposed to Branson’s spaceplane, which goes just over 50 miles up, which is what the US government recognizes as outer space.
But in the background, Blue Origin is still working on more ambitious technologies. It laid out plans for a gargantuan orbital rocket called New Glenn. It’s also selling the engines for its New Glenn rocket to legacy aerospace company United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. And it’s unveiled a concept for Blue Moon, its lunar lander.
SpaceX, however, has bested Blue Origin in competitions for several lucrative government contracts that help fund such projects, including a NASA lunar lander contract, which Blue Origin is currently contesting.
Separately, Amazon has also announced plans to create a constellation of internet-beaming satellites, much like SpaceX’s Starlink. Though Starlink is actually based on ideas that were first attempted in the 1990s, Musk has frequently accused Bezos of being a “copycat.”
Among the other incidents in which Bezos and Musk have sparred: Musk made a “blue balls” joke about Bezos’ “Blue Moon” spacecraft, a back-and-forth over who figured out how to land rocket boosters first, and a spat about whether Mars is a livable planet.
If there is a race underway, space fans are usually the first to declare SpaceX the frontrunner. Musk’s venture, founded in 2002, has built rockets capable of shuttling satellites and other cargo into Earth’s orbit, a trip that requires speeds topping 17,000 miles per hour, and built a 1,500-piece constellation of internet-beaming satellites; it’s figured out how to land and reuse much of its hardware after flight, and it’s won massive NASA and US military contracts.
It’s created and flown the most powerful rocket in operation — and performed synchronized landings of its boosters — and developed a spacecraft that successfully ferried astronauts to the International Space Station. Now SpaceX is working on creating a spaceship that will take humans to the moon and Mars.
Meanwhile, neither Branson’s nor Bezos’ companies have managed to take astronauts to orbit. Their companies have, relatively speaking, just scratched the edge of space.
Elon Musk touts SpaceX surging internet growth, but still says goal is to avoid bankruptcy
Along the way, SpaceX collected a fervent base of supporters who defend his every move. But there’s no denying that SpaceX has frequently been the pioneer of the commercial space sector by breaking records, making history, and accomplishing things that industry professionals once deemed unfeasible. The company is credited with almost single-handedly disrupting the rocket industry, which was considered fairly stagnant and somewhat uninteresting for a couple of decades before SpaceX came along.
But on the other hand, Musk himself has not traveled to space, nor has he said when he would do so or if he is willing to take on the risk anytime soon. His most notable comment on the matter was that he’d “like to die on Mars, just not on impact.”
Musk, the world’s second-richest man, has also criticized rivals for attempting to generate profits, as opposed to SpaceX, which has the stated goal of “making life multi-planetary.”
How much these billionaires should be paying in taxes is an important policy debate, as some like Bernie Sanders make the argument that it is even immoral just to be a billionaire. The irony of this rhetoric is that the alternative is diverting taxpayer dollars from bridges and roads to compete against these private companies with no completion end game.
Instead, these high-net-worth individuals are using their wealth to foster an industry with direct benefits to the U.S. and actually generating tax revenue. The American taxpayer spent nothing to send Bezos to space.
We should want more of this, not less, as the immediate and long-term benefits of these free-market transactions will not only advance science, but also the possibilities of humankind – with minimal cost to the American taxpayer.
It is imperative that free nations win the second Space Race. A well-regulated commercial space industry, encouraged and promoted by our government like any other vital sector, is essential. In stark contrast to the first space race, private capital will be the requisite ingredient to our victory, and government investment must seek to leverage it, not compete against it.