The Billionaires Space Race, Who Is Winning?

The race to be the best space company is currently underway, which is by far the biggest highlight of the 21st century. When you hear space travel, the names SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are associated with and the crazy billionaires that run them. Going to space today is something private companies can do, even better than government agencies like NASA. In order to know who is winning, we need to understand the billionaires who run them, the company mission and the future of those companies. This is everything you need to know about the Billionaires Space Race.

Today SpaceX, which Elon Musk runs, possesses the most prominent success out of any other company. It is the first space company to ever win a contract by NASA to send payloads to the international space station. Following SpaceX comes blue origin, run by Jef Bezos with its New Shepard and New Glenn rockets, focusing on providing a platform for future generations and taking heavy industries to space. Finally, Virgin Galactic, which Richard Branson runs, with the goal to commercialise space flight and make it accessible to anyone.

In the 20th century, space was something that governments could only do. It was too expensive, almost impossible to achieve. There were no clear reasons for doing it other than the race between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, which immediately followed the Second World War. In that period, the only way to get to space was to burn through millions and millions of tax money and government funding. Although that era had its challenges and successes, space remained extremely difficult to access until the 2000s.

Hate or love what those people are doing; they are making something almost impossible to do. As history proves time and time again, there is always a strong movement that sparks change, which we have seen in the industrial revolution and continue to see with the acceleration of space travel.

Developing innovative rockets and engines that can reduce the cost of space travel is the biggest mission of those companies, and the need for more creative engineers to drive that change. Therefore, we need to dive more into the billionaire’s space travel to understand the change they are trying to make 20-50 years from now.

SpaceX Mission

Launch of SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket

Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, after the huge success he had from selling PayPal to eBay. He founded SpaceX, but he did not have any experience in rocket engines or aerospace degree, just passion. Elon philosophy for success and determination shaped the path of what SpaceX is today.

This is what Elon think of space travel:

“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”

Elon Musk

Starship the biggest and longest rocket ever built

Out of the many exciting things about SpaceX is the Starship, a rocket that will take astronauts to Mars. This is the pinnacle of human innovation. This design is one of the biggest and most promising designs to provide commercial space flights rockets.


However, before this massive success for SpaceX, there were many failures, starting with Falcon 1. Today SpaceX has a fleet of rockets such as falcon 9, dragon and falcon heavy designed to deliver payloads. The ingenuity level makes SpaceX the most successful space company ever that even made NASA sign a contract with them to deliver payloads to the international space station. Out of the many crazy things that SpaceX trying to achieve is to build a colony on Mars, which is currently underway with the first mission scheduled for 2024.

How SpaceX is funded?

The end goal of SpaceX is to make humans a multi-planet species, and the focus now is Mars. The plan is to transform Mars into a habitable planet by warming up the planet and establishing a base on Mars. For that to happen, SpaceX plans to send at least 1000 starships to Mars with daily lunches of at least two rockets. Now when we put this in perspective of sending a capable ship in a rapid way to Mars, this crazy plan is not so crazy after all.

However, out of all the other companies, SpaceX needs massive funding. Even the contract with NASA to send payloads to the international space station or establish a base on the Moon can only go as far as a few billion. SpaceX needs a sustainable income, and that is where Starlink comes.

Starlink is a satellite internet provider that Elon founded in 2015 as part of SpaceX. Starlink is a separate entity from SpaceX, which will be one of the main funding streams for SpaceX. At the time of writing this post, Starlink has launched close to 1,700 satellites and planning to have close to 30,000 satellites in total to make the service work efficiently.

This technology can be highly profitable to SpaceX, and even Elon stated that Starlink could go public once it has figured out its based cost. In the event that Starlink turned out to be a total failure, this will not affect the mother company SpaceX as Starlink is a separate entity from SpaceX.

Blue Origin Mission

New Shepard

In contrast to SpaceX, Blue Origin has an entirely different mission. The goal is to take heavy industries such as mining and manufacturing to the Moon and keep the Earth a clean planet. Although there are no concrete or known plans of how this might happen, Blue Origin current mission is to provide space flight with its Shepard rocket. You can even book a seat on the Shepard to fly to space on the Blue Origin website if you do not mind being on the waiting list.

We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space and keep Earth as this beautiful gem

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos philosophy for success is simple. Keep costs low and provide a platform that is easily accessible to people that ultimately provide excellent customer service. This is the secret behind Amazon success and the reason for the innovation in Blue Origin. You can learn more about The Philosophy Of Jeff Bezos Success here.

In a nutshell, Blue Origin utilises reusable rocket technology like SpaceX, which enables them to send people to space rapidly at a low cost. Blue Origin has plans to make a base on the Moon, which is set in action in 2024 with its Blue Moon lander.

New Glenn Rocket

New Glenn is Blue Origin answer to heavy rockets that can take a heavy payload to space, such as satellites and their Blue Moon lander. Although New Glenn is not as big as Starship, it does offer many features that beat SpaceX Falon Heavy rocket with its 7-meter diameter that can even take two satellites to space staked on top of each other. See below a compression scale.


In compression, New Glenn is still under development and testing while SpaceX has successfully done everything that Blue Origin wants to achieve with its Falcon 9 rocket.

What is surprising about Blue Origin is that they have stayed quiet for almost two-decade and managed to stay afloat without even facing bankruptcy. The Company mantra is Gradatim Ferociter, which is Latin for “Step by Step ferociously”.

There are many debates over Blue Origin using SpaceX landing technology. However, Blue Origin has patented the landing of reusable rockets technology in 2010. This has spiked many conflicts between the companies, which later Blue Origin lost to SpaceX. In the end, it does not really matter who copied the other. What matter is that this competition has accelerated one of the biggest obstacles to flying to space which is cheap operation cost by utilising a reusable space vehicle by landing tail first on a sea platform ship.

Landing of reusable rockets patent

How Blue Origin is Funded?

It is crucial to understand how those rocket ship companies are funded. There is just no demand for their technology, and the only clients for those companies are governments – particularly NASA. Today, NASA would rather place all the risk on those companies to develop rocket technology and do all the testing instead of doing it themselves, and they only need to fund the mission.

However, NASA can only do so much, and the end goal is to establish a base on the Moon, which is a game Blue Origin is not doing so well at. Blue Origin has the National Team, a partnership between Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to develop a human landing system on Moon. It seems that this collaboration is just another way of reducing liability to Blue Origin in case a failure happens. You can learn more here.

For Blue Origin to stay afloat, it needs huge capital funding, which Jeff Bezos is committed to selling $1 Billion of his Amazon equity every year to fund Blue Origin. At the time of writing, Jeff net worth is $204 Billion, which means that Jeff can fund Blue Origin for many years to come without issues.

Virgin Galactic Mission

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic. The company mission is to make space flight accessible to anyone. Out of all three, Richard company is the least ambitious. It does not have any crazy mission of reaching other planets. It does not even hold a rocket technology but a spaceship two that utilities a single raptor engine. Richard philosophy for success is straightforward, take risks and embrace the adventure.


This is What Richard was saying when he went to space on spaceship two:

I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, imagine what we can do

Richard Branson

Virgin Galactic main rival would be Blue Origin. But, Virgin Galactic does not have a rocket base landing. Instead, it uses a two-ship system with a mother ship called VMS Eve that take the second ship to suborbital space before the break. The second ship can carry up to two pilots and six passengers to just above suborbital space for a maximum of 10 minutes. The total journey for the passengers from leaving Earth takes up to 2 hours, while it takes Blue Origin 10 minutes.

How Virgin Galactic Is funded?

Virgin Galactic focuses on making space flight available for millionaires with high ticket sales close to $200k and could even go higher if demand increase. Although there is no timeline to when this will happen, the company is planning to reach close to 400 flights per year, taking approximately 2,400 people to space per year. The company is funded by massive institutions and governments that have kept the company afloat for a long time.

The company has been publicly traded since October 2019, which has funded the company well until now. However, Virgin Galactic needs to have a plan set in motion to take people to space to bring some profit. Compared to the other companies Virgin Galactic have the least funding chances compared to SpaceX with its NASA contract and Starlink satellite technology, and Blue Origin, which Jeff Bezos funds.

While Virgin seem to have the safest technology, there is still vast elements of risks. In 2014 one of the ship pilots has died in a crash. Since then, Virgin has reduced the chances of human error to ensure a future for the company. So far, Blue Origin seems to have the safest technology with its vertical lunch of a New Shepard booster and capsule that was tested numerous times. Even if the New Shepard booster rocket fails, the capsule which carries the passengers can disengage and land via parachute.

The Impact Of Billionaires Rivalry On Acceleration In Space Programs

In any industry, if there is hard competition, there will be rapid change and innovation, and the space industry is no different. It is expected that space programs will become a $1.5 trillion industry by 2040, which is something incredible that currently, only a few are pioneering in it. It will certainly attract many young engineers and will witness a series of rapid innovations in the next 50 years.

However, the Billionaires rivalry is not very healthy, especially between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. It all started in 2004 when the two tech giants met for the first time. During that time, non of them had made a single successful lunch, but SpaceX was way ahead of its engine testing. Elon tried to give Jeff some tips about his company as he was not impressed with the current level of innovation at Blue Origin. This was not received well by Jeff as he likes to test things and get the answers himself, a habit taken from his success at Amazon.

Fast forward to 2008 when SpaceX won a NASA contract which was an extraordinary come back for SpaceX from bankruptcy which was also the year they had a successful lunch of their Falcon 1 rocket. This obviously did not go well with Jeff Bezos and started the Twitter wars. The war between those two fueled in 2013 on NASA leasing the lunch complex 39A. Which SpaceX leased for 20 years that Jeff Bezos disagreed with.

Jeff tried to patent the landing rocket technology that could have earned him lots of money from any company trying to use the same technology, which he later lost in 2014 to SpaceX. This funny video shows how SpaceX truly pioneered the landing of reusable rockets, which Blue Origin shamelessly tried to take credit for:

Today It seems that Jeff Bezos is aimlessly trying to copy everything that Elon Musk is doing. For example, Starlink has been part of SpaceX since 2015 with its internet satellite. Amazon plans to lunch its Kuiper internet satellites in the fourth quarter of 2022 to compete with Starlink.

While Tesla has been a prosperous Auto manufacturer with a range of vehicles, including the Cybertruck, Amazon has invested $1.4 Billion in the start-up eclectic Auto company Rivian which went public on November 10, 2021, as one of the biggest IPOs in 2021. Moreover, Blue Origin has been taking many SpaceX engineers by doubling their salary at SpaceX. Those examples are a clear indication that Jeff Bezos is trying to copy everything Elon Musk is doing.

This is what Elon Musk Tweeted after Amazon acquired the self-driving start-up Zoox

Risks Associated With Billionaires Arrogance

There are many risks associated with what those billionaires trying to achieve that could potentially affect their survival and question the sustainability of what they are trying to achieve.

Space Debris

Space debris floating in the orbit of planet Earth. Old satellites, rockets of support, pieces of metal are a threat because they can collide with the new satellites and produce space debris.

There is too much junk already in space from thousands of old and new satellites. To this day, there are no regulations on bringing decommissioned satellites back to Earth. Those old satellites are left to orbit the Earth aimlessly, colliding with new or old satellites and producing space debris that orbits the Earth. This debris can damage new equipment going to space and also make it difficult to send new satellites to space.

The current Starlink mission of sending 30,000 satellites to space for its internet system can produce lots of future space junk. Although, that Starlink announced that the old satellites at the end of their useful life would be able to push themselves back to Earth. Still, the technology relies on using a network link between the satellites to transfer data. This means that the technology needs to rely on volume to be successful. Any failure in one satellite can affect the network quality and more junk in space.

On the other hand, Amazon plans to lunch its internet network Kuiper in 2022, contributing further to future space debris.

The carbon footprint of space rockets

Carbon emission from engine raptors is currently the only practical technology for escaping the earth gravity and going to space. Although, all that the current rocket engines CO2 emissions are not as much compared to other industries such as aeroplanes and Cars which mostly going electric those days. Yet the rocket industry emissions has been grown around 4%-6% a year thanks to the persistence of those billionaires.

Although that might not be much of a risk now, imagine what will happen when thousands of Starship launches from the Earth in 2024, starting the Mars colonisation process. The heat emission from those engines near the Earth suborbital can contribute to heating the planet.

On the one hand, Richard and Jeff want to preserve life on Earth by taking the heavy industry to space. On the other hand, Elon thinks that the only way of preserving consciousness is to become a multi-plant species. Either way, those billionaires have spent too many resources developing space technology instead of using those resources to compact global warming.

In the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson, if we possess a technology where we can terraform planets such as Mars to become habitable planets. We will already have the technology to fix the Earth from global warming and save the Earth from any danger such as asteroids colliding with the Earth. The biggest question is how long until we possess such technology where we can fix the Earth and colonise planets and how much those billionaires are contributing to it.

The Bottom Line

Elon Musk Red Tesla Roadstar was launched to space in February 2018 on the Falcon Heavey as a way of demonstrating the ability of the rocket

The 21st-century space race is already underway, which seems that SpaceX is leading that race, followed by Blue Origin. It seems that the competition will only produce more innovation in space flight which can reduce costs drastically. In the end, it does not really matter who wins but what type of innovation we will witness in our lifetime.

Joseph Maloyan

Hi, this is Joseph, and I love writing about engineering and technology. Here I share my knowledge and experience on what it means to be an engineer. My goal is to make engineering relatable, understandable and fun!

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