Bezos unveils moon lander
Cargo missions, space tourism and global internet coverage – it’s all happening in outer space. There’s been a flurry of activity above earth of late, and three billionaires are leading the charge looking to turn the final frontier into the next big thing in business. Here’s a look at what’s currently happening in the modern space race.
Elon Musk, SpaceX
Elon Musk’s private space exploration company SpaceX has been busy, and garners the most media attention.
What he’s trying to achieve: The U.S. military and a number of private clients have tapped SpaceX for cargo missions, and the company is also in talks with NASA to launch American astronauts from U.S. soil for the first time since 2011. As if that’s not enough, next week, the company will launch a number of broadband satellites, as part of its long-term goal to provide global internet coverage, an initiative the company says will require 12,000 satellites.
What progress he’s made: The California-based firm has launched five rockets already this year and carried out its first commercial mission in April, launching a satellite for Saudi Arabia. SpaceX has two types of rockets, the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. There’s a Canadian connection here, too, as just last week Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques used the Canadarm 2 to haul in SpaceX’s dragon capsule, which was loaded with cargo for the International Space Station.
Business beyond space: The South-African billionaire founded PayPal and sold it to eBay in 2002. Since then he has founded or helped start a number of companies. In addition to SpaceX, nowadays he keeps busy with The Boring Company, SolarCity and of course Tesla Inc.
Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin
Amazon.com Inc. founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has been a little more secretive about his space plans, but in the past week his privately-funded rocket company Blue Origin turned up the heat on its peers.
What he’s trying to achieve: While SpaceX is more focused on cargo missions, Bezos’ goal has been to commercialize space tourism, and launch tourists into the great unknown. He also made an ambitious announcement on Thursday, unveiling blueprints for a lunar lander, with the goal of sending equipment and even astronauts to the moon in 2024. While space tourism isn’t far off, Blue Origin’s longer-term goal is to build a lunar base. The moon is a good place to build heavy equipment in outer space, said Bezos during the announcement, due to its low gravity compared to earth.
What progress he’s made: Last week Blue Origin launched its reusable New Shepard spacecraft for the eleventh time. After the successful unmanned test launch last week, Blue Origin executives have suggested a crewed launch could be coming in the next few months, and that a commercial flight is possible in 2019.
Business beyond space: Despite a recent-high profile divorce, Bezos remains the richest man in the world thanks to his majority stake in Amazon. The 55-year-old gives US$ 1 billion of his own money to Blue Origin every year by selling off some of his company shares.
Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic
Eccentric billionaire Richard Branson also has his hat in this race. The Virgin Group Ltd. boss created Virgin Galactic in 2004, and has since been adamant he’ll get average Joes to space before anyone else.
What he’s trying to achieve: Branson wants to take it one step further than just selling tickets, and has undergone rigorous testing so that he himself becomes the first non-astronaut to travel in outer space. Another long-term goal for Branson is to offer rocket-powered flights between cities.
What progress he’s made: He’s getting closer. In December, Virgin’s ship – the VSS Unity – made it to space, which is defined as 100 kilometres above earth. Another test flight in February went even higher. Branson has previously said he expects to make a suborbital flight as soon as July. While a date for the first commercial flight is not yet set, Virgin Galactic has already sold some 600 tickets to outer space at US $250,000.
Business beyond space: Branson’s business empire is vast but his public-facing brands include Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Media and Virgin Trains.