8 Jul 2021

The Entrepreneurs Leading The Space Race

Startup, Venture Capital, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson

It has been almost 50 years since humans have stepped foot on the moon, but these days, entrepreneurs are taking space travel into their own hands. The billionaire space race has begun.

Elon Musk and his company SpaceX want people on Mars by 2024, Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin are planning on going to space for 11 minutes in July, and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are offering tickets to celebrities such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and have even had a successful first test flight.

Bezos and Branson are currently head-to-head in the space race, as there are claims Branson is set to fly during early July, and Bezos on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, July 20. What does this mean for the future of commercial space travel?

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin

According to Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down from his role as Amazon CEO to focus on his other ventures, space travel is something he has wanted to do all his life – soon, he may be there.

Since its founding in 2000, Blue Origin was the first company promising to send civilians on commercial flights into space.

After spending over half of the last decade running test trials, the New Sheppard rocket is scheduled to depart on July 20th, along with Bezos, his brother Mark and one other lucky passenger whose seat was auctioned off after bidding closed at $28 million on June 12.

You see the earth from space and it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It’s one Earth.
Jeff Bezos, via Forbes

The passengers will only be in space for 11 minutes, making it a very quick trip with all the risk that comes with space travel. New Sheppard is scheduled to take off in Texas near the US-Mexico border, and go to the edge of outer space, 62 miles above the Earth.

Future Blue Origin flights are all going to be operating in a similar way, with a straight up and down flight to take passengers into Outerspace and back down to Earth.

Elon Musk and SpaceX

Elon Musk’s SpaceX appears to be Bezos’ biggest competitor, especially with both companies wanting to lock-in government contracts and partnerships with NASA.

Founded in 2002, SpaceX has hit multiple milestones, but also accidents. The larger and more powerful engines make Musk’s rockets more prone to explosions, however Musk plans to use his SpaceX ships to send NASA astronauts onto the moon for the first moon landing since 1972, after winning a $2.9 billion NASA contract, this time outbidding Bezos’ Blue Origin.

Having completed a trip to the International Space Station and back with astronauts, Musk is optimistic in his plans to be the first man to Mars. Currently Musk plans to send men to Mars by 2026, following his 2024 trip with NASA to the moon.

Startup, VC, Nasa, SpaceX, Elon Musk

Astronauts representing SpaceX in the NASA & SpaceX collaboration. Image via ABC News from Shutterstock.

Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic

Both Bezos and Musk seem to be the two biggest Billionaire space racers currently in competition. However Richard Branson seems to be keeping a close tail as he plans to make his first commercial flight in soon this month.

With the flight of Virgin Galactic space plane Unity successfully completing the first of three key test flights, it is possible that Virgin Galactic and its 600 paying customers, including celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks may be performing commercial flights by the end of the year.

Virgin Galactic’s flights travel at speeds of up to three times the speed of sound and hope to make commercial space travel accessible to as many people as possible, using supersonic speeds.

Startup, Venture Capital, Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic, Space travel

Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic Spaceship. Image via Space.com from Virgin Galactic.

So, what does the future of space travel look like for people who aren’t astronauts, entrepreneurs or billionaires engaging in the space race?

It may be quite soon but it’ll definitely come with a hefty price tag. After completing missions successfully with test dummy ‘Mannequin Skywalker’, Bezos says he is confident that relatively cheap space travel for civilians is not far off.

However, it is hard to say just exactly how ‘cheap’ these tickets will be, and it may be quite some time before they are available to a large portion of the public.

The most affordable option currently on the market comes from Japanese Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who flew around the moon in 2018 with SpaceX. Maezawa has bought an entire private flight around the moon aboard a SpaceX ship in 2023 and is offering tickets to civilians who can demonstrate they are willing to help people and greater society in some sort of way. Unfortunately, only eight tickets are available, and so any dreams of flying to the moon in the next three years may be a little out of reach.

I’ve always been a dreamer. My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars.
Richard Branson, via Twitter

As the billionaire’s space race reaches the final leg, the three key players, Musk, Bezos and Branson have all set their sights on similar prizes with strict timelines to accomplish them.

It will be interesting to see who is able to stick to their timelines, and who may have been overly ambitious.

Will 8 lucky civilians fly around the moon for free, or will it still be quite some time before we could land a spot on a spaceship next to Leonardo DiCaprio?

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Header Image via: SCMP.com from TNS, Slow Life Symposium.

Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos
Space Tech