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Video: Billionaire Space Race
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
The space companies created by these three billionaires have slightly different goals and different perspectives on how to achieve them. But one goal is common: so that the private sector can get satellites, people and cargo into space cheaper and faster than before. However, one should consider their eccentric personal qualities and selfishness.
Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson have a combined net worth of $ 400 billion, roughly equal to the GDP of Ireland. And these three decided to spend large sums on achieving their dream of space travel. They marked the beginning of the modern space race, in which not countries, but the super-rich, strive for the stars.
The space companies created by these three billionaires have different goals and different perspectives on how to achieve them. However, the rivalry between Branson, Musk and Bezos has never been more intense than this month, when Branson announced that he would be making a suborbital flight just days before Bezos climbed into his rocket.
Branson's flight went smoothly on Sunday, while Bezos is planning one for July 20.
But which billionaire really wins the so-called space race? It all depends on what position to look from.
Future prospects at a glance
The press called Bezos, Branson and Musk space barons because of their similarities. All three built their fortunes in other industries before turning their attention to the space industry: Musk - online payments and electric vehicles, Bezos - Amazon, Branson - the empire of enterprises under the Virgin brand. All of them created their companies with an interval of only a few years, becoming the most recognizable faces of the space race of the 21st century, in which titans of the private industry compete, and not the governments of the West and the East, as in the last century.
However, they are definitely not the only players, and the space barons may not be around for long. There are hundreds of space startups in the United States, and the world is focused on everything from satellite technology to orbital hotels. SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin have also benefited significantly from partnerships with NASA and the US military, with all three continuing to compete (and sometimes partner with) early aerospace companies such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and United Launch Alliance.
SpaceX fans are the first to name SpaceX as the leader when it comes to racing. Musk's company, created in 2002, has built rockets capable of launching satellites and other cargo into Earth's orbit (for such a journey, you need to reach speeds above 17 thousand miles per hour) and has created a whole network of 1.5 thousand Internet satellites. SpaceX figured out how to land and reuse most of its equipment after flight. In addition, she won large-scale contracts with NASA and the US military.
SpaceX has built and launched the most powerful rocket in operation (and performed a synchronized landing of its boosters), and has developed a spacecraft that successfully airlifted astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX is currently working on a spacecraft that will take humans to the Moon and Mars.
Meanwhile, neither Branson's company nor Bezos's company managed to get the astronauts into orbit. Their companies, in fact, only scratched the edge of space.
Along the way, SpaceX has built a zealous base of supporters to defend every step of the way. It's undeniable that SpaceX has often been a pioneer in the commercial space industry, breaking records, making history, and doing things that industry professionals thought were impossible. The companies are credited with single-handedly revolutionizing the rocket industry, which in the decades before SpaceX was considered rather stagnant and somewhat uninteresting.
However, Musk himself did not visit space and did not say when he would do it and whether he would take this risk at all in the near future. His most famous statement on this topic is that he "would like to die on Mars, but not from a blow."
Musk, the second richest man in the world, criticized his rivals for trying to make a profit. On the contrary, SpaceX's stated goal is "to make life multi-planetary." Understand this however you want.
One billionaire has made the reluctance to rush to make rockets part of his brand, and this billionaire is Bezos. He founded Blue Origin in 2000, six years after Amazon, and gave it the slogan "gradatim ferociter," a Latin phrase that translates to "ferociously step by step." The company's mascot is the turtle, a tribute to the fable of the turtle and the hare, which made the proverb "the quieter you drive, the further you will be" a distinctive feature of childhood.
“Our talisman is a turtle, because we believe that slow means calm, and calm means fast,” Bezos said. This can be seen as an attempt to turn Blue Origin into the antithesis of SpaceX, which is known to prefer to act quickly by trial and error, rather than slow and painstaking development processes.
For years, the company operated in almost complete secrecy. But now her goals are almost clear: Bezos, the richest man in the world, wants to eventually send humans to live and work in rotating orbiting space colonies in order to prolong the life of humanity after Earth reaches a distant theoretical energy crisis. Bezos founded Blue Origin to develop the cheaper rocket and spacecraft technologies that would be needed to create such an extraterrestrial colony. The company also announced plans to build a lunar lander and partner with NASA and others to build a lunar base.
New Shepard, Blue Origin's fully autonomous, reusable suborbital rocket, was conceived as a first step towards a lunar landing technology to show the company how to safely land a small spacecraft on the moon. However, the company is also betting on the use of New Shepard for suborbital tourism, tickets can be sold to wealthy thrill seekers. This idea was at the heart of the latest news cycle. Bezos and three others will be the first tourists to fly the first 11-minute high-speed flight aboard the New Shepard.
However, in the meantime, Blue Origin continues to work on more ambitious technologies. The company spoke about plans to create a huge New Glenn orbital rocket. It also sells engines for New Glenn to the United Launch Alliance aerospace company, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The company also unveiled the Blue Moon lunar lander concept.
However, SpaceX has beaten Blue Origin in the race for several lucrative government contracts to help fund such projects, including a contract with NASA for a lunar lander, which Blue Origin is now challenging.
Amazon has independently announced plans to create a network of internet satellites like SpaceX's Starlink. Despite the fact that Starlink actually builds on ideas that were first attempted in the 90s, Musk often accuses Bezos of "imitating".
Musk and Bezos clashed on other issues as well: Musk joked about Bezos's Blue Moon; an ongoing debate over who first figured out how to plant rocket boosters, and a quarrel over whether Mars is habitable.
Lately, however, the main focus has been on the rivalry between Branson and Bezos.
Branson's Virgin Galactic was founded with the same business plan as Blue Origin's for New Shepard: to bring ticket-paying customers to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic's technology is markedly different (using a rocket-powered cruise orbital plane rather than vertically launched missiles and capsules), but their short-term goals are almost the same.
Branson has launched a wave of rumors that Virgin Galactic is planning technical flights to get Branson into space ahead of Bezos's July 20 flight.
Although Branson has long aspired to be the first space baron to visit space, Virgin Galactic faced several major hurdles that delayed those plans for years. In 2014, a co-pilot died in a tragic incident during a test flight of SpaceShipTwo. In addition, a series of technical difficulties had to be addressed before the company was ready to create a spacecraft that would be safe enough for Branson's flight.
However, in the rivalry between Branson and Bezos, the former can boast of something: Virgin Galactic has already turned people into astronauts. Since the flight requires two pilots, and during test flights some of the company's employees acted as crew members, Virgin Galactic has already made eight astronauts: four pilots, Branson, and a group of company employees who participated in the flights as crew members. At the same time, Blue Origin flights have not yet made anyone an astronaut.
Not to mention the fact that Branson was able to put the rocket into orbit, and for this, we repeat, you need a much higher speed and power of the rocket than for suborbital flights.
Branson's Virgin Orbit, which spun off from Virgin Galactic in 2017, sent the first series of satellites into orbit in January. Virgin Orbit's LauncherOne rocket, which uses Boeing 747s to lift, is no match for Musk's Falcon 9 and Bezos's planned New Glenn. Despite this, it is considered the leader in the race in the niche of developing special rockets to deliver small satellites into space, as their popularity has skyrocketed.
Virgin Galactic also has some bold long-term ideas, including the creation of a suborbital supersonic aircraft that will allow people to travel between cities at breakneck speeds.
To summarize: all three billionaires have similar but different extraterrestrial aspirations; the goal is for the private sector to be able to get satellites, people and goods into space cheaper and faster than has been possible in the past. However, race, as far as it can be called, can also be tied to the eccentric personalities and selfishness of some of the richest people in the world.
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