Jeff Bezos in front of the Blue Origin space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969 when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there’s no doubt just how much it will mean for each of them to win the “new space race”.
Amazon founder Bezos looked set to be the first of three to fly into space, announcing plans to launch his space company Blue Origin aboard the New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, but Branson beat him to it.
The British billionaire became a Virgin Galactic 001 astronaut when he flew into space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos on July 11 in a test flight.
Bezos went into space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Damen, an 18-year-old physics student whose ticket was bought by his father, and 82-year-old astronaut Wally Funk.
While SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space and even “die on Mars,” he didn’t say when he could go into orbit, but bought a suborbital flight ticket from Virgin Galactic.
SpaceX has become the first “space tourism” operator to send a fully civilian crew into orbit. The Inspiration4 mission was funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.
His flight was on a Dragon capsule and a SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire Elon Musk, and on Sept. 16, he embarked on a three-day orbital journey, rising above the International Space Station.
SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with multiple launches bringing NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists into space by 2021.
On February 6, 2018, SpaceX sent a rocket into orbit around Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s red Tesla Roadster attached to it.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
SpaceX also flew two teams of astronauts to the International Space Station, with crews from NASA, ESA and the Japanese space agency JAXA.
SpaceX is sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network, which is already in beta and provides fast internet to rural areas.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to space exploration. He repeatedly and successfully test-flights Virgin Galactic’s Unity spaceplane.
The first took place in December 2018, and the last on May 22, when the flight speed exceeded 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
To date, more than 600 wealthy clients, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have booked a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space flights. Final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket company SpaceX.
Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating area with two large windows – one on the side and one overhead.
The spacecraft is 60 feet long and has a 90-inch diameter cabin, allowing astronauts to float as freely as possible in zero gravity.
It rises to 50,000 feet before the rocket engine catches fire. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier White Knight II as soon as it passes the 50 mile mark.
Passengers become “astronauts” when they reach the Karman Line, the boundary of the earth’s atmosphere.
The spacecraft will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.
In April 2017, Bezos revealed that he is funding Blue Origin annually with about $1 billion (£720 million) in Amazon stock.
The system consists of a pressurized crew capsule on a New Shepard reusable launch vehicle.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 km), just above the official space threshold, and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.
Blue Origin is working on the New Glenn, a next-generation heavy rocket that will compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9.