Travel is an interesting concept. Want to visit Edinburgh? No problem, purchase a train ticket. Fancy a holiday to Greece? Simple, buy a plane ticket. But what if you wanted to visit space? Will buying a rocket ticket become the new norm?
Well, three men are battling it out to become the first to swap people's cheques for space treks.
You've probably heard of these business titans. But just in case you’ve been living on Mars, Jeff Bezos is the Founder of Amazon, Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla and Richard Branson is the Founder of Virgin Group.
A common misconception is that these men are trying to commercialise space travel through their most well-known companies. This isn't true. They're each doing it through other companies they own.
So, let's have a look at how each wannabe Buzz Lightyear is attempting to monetise the space ways.
Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin
If you took every parcel Amazon has ever delivered, and stacked them on top of each other, you'd probably have a ladder big enough to climb to space.
Sorry to disappoint, but this isn't actually how Bezos plans to take us to the cosmos. I know, crazy right.
His ambition involves building rockets through his other company, Blue Origin. Blue Origin was founded in 2000 and is the oldest privately funded space flight company in the U.S.
Whilst the company's aim is to preserve Earth through finding new energy sources and materials in our solar system, they also want to take paying customers to space. In July 2021, the first crew launch took place in their New Shepard rocket; Bezos was on board with his brother and two other astronauts.
Blue Origin is making progress in space travel, but has experienced ongoing delays with its latest rocket, New Glenn, which was expected to launch in 2020. Now, it won’t be taking off until 2023 at the earliest.
However, delays in rockets haven't stopped progression into their space business park. But what on Earth (or off Earth 😉) is a space business park?
Well, in October 2021, Blue Origin launched 'Orbital Reef' which is a 'space village' in low Earth orbit where organisations can conduct research from space. Blue Origin wants to use this facility to help make new learnings into sciences that we can’t even imagine now. Think of it like an office in space, only you don’t have to worry about parking your car anywhere. Blue Origin also intends for paying customers to be able to visit Orbital Reef between 2025 and 2030.
There’s no question Orbital Reef would be an out of world experience, the question is, will this also face delays?
Elon Musk and SpaceX
In 2002, Musk founded Space Exploration Technologies Corp., more commonly known as SpaceX.
Musk has said SpaceX would be ready to fly people to space by 2023, but any Tesla deposit holders will know to take Musk's timeline statements with a pinch of salt.
Interestingly, Musk is the only one on this list who hasn't been to space. What's the reason? No one knows for sure, but some speculate he wants his first space trip to be one of great significance. My money’s on Mars being his first trip!
However, SpaceX has achieved a number of firsts that are undeniably impressive.
2008 - the Falcon 1 rocket became the first of its type to reach orbit
2010 - their 'Dragon' craft became the first spacecraft to recover another spacecraft
2012 - Dragon continued breaking boundaries as it was the first spacecraft (from a private company) to make it to the International Space Station
2020 - after winning a blind bid, SpaceX won the rights to a $2.9 billion NASA contract to take astronauts to space. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken were blasted off to the International Space Station
2020 - Starlink became the largest satellite constellation in existence
Musk fans will know that neither sky nor space is the limit for the world's richest man. He also has aims to take people to Mars and this is looking more and more likely as the development into 'Starship' continues. It's the most powerful launch vehicle to ever be developed, being able to carry over 100 tons of crew and cargo. That's around 20 elephants. Wow.
SpaceX intends to land its rockets on Mars by 2024. By 2026, they want to do this with crew members onboard.
However, things with Musk are rarely straightforward. In November 2021, SpaceX faced a toilet malfunction which left four astronauts reliant on 'undergarments'. Ew, we won't go into any more detail.
Musk later warned his employees the Starship craft is now behind in development and the company could face bankruptcy if the Starship cannot launch at least once every two weeks in 2022. Thankfully for SpaceX fans, there's been no signs of bankruptcy for SpaceX in 2022 so far.
Musk may be on a mission to make it to Mars, but will he be the first to commercialise space travel for us mere mortals before Branson and Bezos? Let us know!
Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic
Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 and it's the only company available to invest in, after it went public in 2019 at $12.34 a share. On the 20th July 2021, Branson became the first of the three to reach space, beating Bezos by just nine days.
Unfortunately, on the 9th September 2022, Bernstein Trading lowered its rating on Virgin Galactic to ‘underperform’ from ‘market perform’ due to the company announcing more delays. More work is needed on the spaceships, which means more cash is needed. Virgin Galactic's stock price fell $0.28 per share (4.46%) to close at $6.00 per share on September 9, 2022.
Although this is a major setback for Virgin Galactic, they do have their sights set on more than just space travel.
Whilst it feels like SpaceX and Blue Origin are two really battling it out for space tourism, Virgin Galactic also focus on two other areas:
Providing experiences – customers can pay for a two-day training course at the Spaceport in New Mexico and receive a custom-made space suit. That’d be next year's Halloween costume sorted.
Improving ‘local’ air travel – the company wants to create a 'supersonic' transport airliner which can speed up air travel. It's thought a flight from New York to London could be done in just two hours.
This isn’t to say Virgin Galactic are neglecting life outside of planet Earth, but it’ll be interesting to see which avenue they decide to take. Do they fancy the tussle with SpaceX and Blue Origin? Or have they found a gap in an untapped market?
If you think Virgin Galactic may be onto a winner, you can invest in them via the Shares app. Just remember, as with all investing, your capital is at risk.
We'd love to know your thoughts on this giant leap into commercial space travel. Is it beneficial for humanity? Or is it an unethical scheme for business titans to engrain themselves into the history books?
Personally, I'm all for commercial space travel. But who's my money on to win this race? Well that would have to be SpaceX thanks to their contract with NASA and Musk's massive obsession with Mars. I do like the vision of Virgin Galactic to create quicker 'local' air travel though, and certainly think Blue Origin's Orbital Reef will make groundbreaking advancements within science. Whatever happens and whoever ‘wins’, I see each of these companies benefiting humanity.
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