The 21st century space race doesn’t pit country against country, instead, it is a battle of the billionaires with the likes of Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla Motors, Jeff Bezos – CEO of Amazon – and Richard Branson – founder of Virgin Group, all competing to create innovative and “affordable” ways to access space by producing reusable rockets. Respect to the forward-thinking danger mouse entrepreneurs giving literal interpretation to the phrase ‘reach for the stars’. In true entrepreneurial fashion – they actually do it. It is certainly an exciting time for science, innovation and history!
Musk, worth $12.6 billion, is the man behind SpaceX. He hopes to send people to Mars by around 2025 and explained the importance of going into Mars: “It’s the only planet we really have a shot at establishing a self-sustaining city on”.
In December last year SpaceX made waves when its Falcon 9 unmanned rocket launched and returned to Earth in a perfect landing. SpacesX’s ambitions however, are not met without challenge when, earlier this year, an attempted landing on an oceangoing platform failed. Whilst SpaceX has said that it is unlikely that they will reuse Falcon 9, they have been testing the rocket to see how it might cope during a re-launch.
Bezos, whose fortune has doubled this year to nearly $60 billion, backs Blue Origin, which is developing spaceships for suborbital as well as orbital trips.
In January this year, Blue Origin successfully launched and landed the New Shepard rocket which was also launched for the first time in November last year reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet. Every launch and re-land is a huge step towards the future of reusable rockets.
Whilst there is a debate over the true feats of the companies, it is nevertheless truly pioneering. The reusability of rockets makes the unthinkable thinkable with only the cost of fuel to account for as opposed to the cost of building a new ship. Making space that much more accessible… well to the rich kids anyway.
I haven’t forgotten about the British born tycoon Sir Richard Branson. On the 19th February, Professor Stephen Hawking, via a video message, unveiled Virgin Galactic’s new SpaceshipTwo craft on behalf of Branson. Hawking named SpaceshipTwo, VSS Unity and wants to fly in it.
Virgin Galactic are firmly back in the space race after the venture had been grounded following a fatal setback in 2014 when the first SpaceshipTwo broke apart during a flight test killing the co-pilot. Despite hesitation, it appears that engineers, astronauts and members of the public convinced Branson that space travel is too important to give up on.
The new design on SpaceshipTwo has added safety features including a pin to stop unlocking, which caused the crash. ‘We learnt a lot from the accident and we made a lot of changes,’ said Mike Moses, a former NASA shuttle manager who now oversees spaceflight operations for Galactic.
At a modest ticket price of only £175,000! It is aimed at the super rich kids, celebrities, researchers and commercial customers. It is reported that more than 700 people are said to have signed up for a ticket for Virgin Galactic’s space flights, including Leonardo DiCaprio.
Branson commented on the space race at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in January this year. “Our spaceship comes back and lands on wheels. Their’s don’t”. “Because ours is shaped like an airplane, we hope to do point-to-point air travel one day. Theirs is not.” But in true Englishman fashion, Branson said “we compete in a friendly way”.
Frankly I have no idea who is going to win but as a Brit and budding entrepreneur my loyalties lie with Branson.
Watch this space… sorry I couldn’t resist!
Forget the sky, space is the limit.
Written by Bina