Elon Musk wins billionaire space race even after rocket failure

Elon Musk wins billionaire space race even after rocket failure


April 29, 2023 | 12:00 pm

Not every billionaire can see their dream project literally burn to ashes at a cost of around $67 million and consider it an exciting launch.

But shortly after SpaceX’s Starship rocket exploded on April 20, after just four minutes in the sky, Elon Musk victoriously tweeted, Congrats to the @SpaceX team on an exciting Starship test launch! Learned a lot for the next test launch in a few months.

It might not happen that fast, especially with an investigation scheduled by the FAA.

I’d say three months is optimistic, Douglas Messier, editor-in-chief of ParabolicArc, a website covering commercial spaces, told The Post. I think it will take more time.

There was an expectation problem. The original plan was for the starship to crash off the coast of Kauai after a 90-minute flight, Messier added. Elon lowered expectations to step off the springboard, and he did, but it didn’t succeed in the way he was originally intended. Elon is very good at managing expectations.

It’s just the latest setback in the once high-flying billionaire space race.

Even at Blue Origin, the brainchild of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, things haven’t been perfect.

In September 2022, an unmanned New Shepard rocket exploded only to cause flames to burst from the bottom. The abort system went into operation and the capsule, created for passengers, parachuted to the ground.

Elon Musk is said to be winning the billionaire space race despite one major stumble.
When the rocket launched by Elon Musks SpaceX exploded after four minutes in the sky, it was already ready for an upcoming test launch.

There were no injuries and the problem was identified as an overheated rocket engine, but flights are currently grounded. It has been reported that Blue Origin hopes to return to flying soon.

There is also the question of money.

Every Blue Origin program should bring in as much as it spends, Eric Berger, author of Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX, told The Post. This is not happening.

Jeff Bezos has been slowed down in his space research after an aborted mission led to a temporary suspension of flights.
Blue Source/Cover Images/INSTARimages.com

Earlier this month, Richard Branson’s satellite launch company Virgin Orbit, an affiliate of his space tourism firm, Virgin Galactic, went bankrupt after failing to secure funding.

Branson is completely beside himself, Berger said, referring to serious space exploration. Frankly, he was never a major player to begin with. Virgin Galactic is a tour company. Virgin Orbit spent a lot of money developing a rocket that was going nowhere.

In the early 21st century, Musk, Bezos and Branson all expressed grand ambitions to launch rockets into space.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit, a satellite company, recently filed for bankruptcy.

In 2021, Bezos, now 59, and Branson, 72, were in a very public race to see who could fly into space first.

There are big egos at play here, Brad Stone, author of Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, told The Post. I am [some] of the most iconic entrepreneurs and all accustomed to winning.

Branson initially won the race over nine days. He flew 53 miles through the sky, crossing what is recognized by the United States as the edge of space, with two pilots and three employees, in his Virgin Galactic VSS Unity on July 11, 2021.

After four minutes into the air, Elon Musks’ spaceship exploded in the sky earlier this month.

Cowboy-hat-wearing Bezos, no less followed suit on July 20, but appeared to be ahead in the name game. In addition to groundbreaking aviator Wally Funk, who flew with Bezos on the initial flight, Blue Origin later sent celebrities William Shatner and Michael Strahan. The vehicle traveled 62 miles, passing the KrmnLine, which the company described as the internationally recognized edge of space.

A-listers slated to fly Virgin reportedly include Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks and Katy Perry.

TOP K-pop star and DJ Steve Aoki, along with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, have reportedly gone to Mars with Musk and SpaceX.

But will any of them ever get off the ground?

A New Shepherd ship, from the Blue Origin fleet, has crashed into the sea after a fiery and failed launch.

Musk’s dream remains the most ambitious. He wants to colonize Mars.

Rand Simberg, a space technology consultant and author of Safe is Not an Option, believes Musk’s desire is particularly high. Getting to Mars is only part of the problem. How do you live there? Nobody knows, he said. You need a lot of technology to not only survive but to thrive on another planet.

Still, rocket insiders say, Musk appears to be winning the space race even after the launch fails.

Virgin Orbit has reportedly been unable to secure funding to continue.

Bezos, after all, has yet to put a serious rocket through its paces. And the partly failed Branson became a nonentity at this stage of the competition.

Elon is much more driven than Jeff, Simberg said. Jeff treated it like a hobby. Jeff was in no hurry. He made the analogy with the tortoise and the hare [about him and Musk]. Right now Elon is winning. The hare is far ahead, and you will not catch up with it.

According to Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days Launching SpaceX Eric Berger, Bezos is investing $1 billion a year into his company. They are still working in New Glenn [a heavy-launch rocket]. It was supposed to launch in 2020. Now 2025 seems like a reasonable guess. By then, though, SpaceX will have launched a lot of rockets [all reusable, allowing for multiple launches per day]. Blue Origin is behind now. By then, they’ll be even further behind.

William Shatner was one of the famous names that has risen or plans to with Blue Origin.

And Musk isn’t the only one who sees the silver lining in SpaceX’s recent flop.

I thought the launch was a successful failure, Berger told The Post. They have good data of the vehicle coming off the pad. They flew for four minutes and got a lot of data there. It has been successful. NASA could not afford to publicly fail like this and learn from it. Congress would ask why they failed.

While Musk dreams of colonizing Mars, Bezos has expressed a desire to build space colonies of his own. In the long run, he predicts millions of people will live and work in space. Branson continues to hold out hopes for ongoing space tourism.

Bezos and Blue Origin intend to take passengers into space again this year.

In terms of its own space tourism, Blue Origin has had six successful flights. In addition to the celebrities, 29 other passengers reportedly paid up to $28 million (via an auctioned ticket) for the 10-minute flight.

Some people will be nervous [to take the trip]Messier said, in light of the aborted mission. But I think they understand what went wrong and that this is a well-designed vehicle.

Branson, which has sent only one sightseeing flight thus far, received promising news on April 26.

Musk’s dream remains the most ambitious, as he wants to colonize Mars.

Virgin Galactics VSS Unity, designed for suborbital operations, flew solo for the first time since 2021, landing safely after nine minutes of flight time.

Virgin Galactic will resume service with members of the Italian Air Force later this year, according to Space News.

This is a deal they made with Italy to do microgravity experiments, Messier said. This is their first paid flight. It’s the Italians who pay.

But, Messier added, it’s imperative that Branson gets more civilians into space soon.

This year, Richard Branson’s space tourism company will send a group of Italian Air Force passengers to the edge of space.
Galactic Virgo

Then there are 800 people who have paid up front, Messier said. [Virgin] started selling tickets in 2005. They have to deliver at some point.

Musk, meanwhile, has apparently made Bezos absolutely jealous of the contracts he brings into SpaceX from commercial and government customers who pay to have satellites launched into space.

Elon built SpaceX as a revenue-hungry company, Berger said. They throw all income into new projects.

However, Berger said, Blue Origin still shouldn’t be counted in part due to Bezo’s true love of space. He’s a big fanboy, Berger said. He paid to have the Saturn V rocket engines lifted up from the Atlantic Ocean. Space is in his heart.

Messier agrees, but believes the real space race depends on whether or not the tortoise can actually catch up with the hare, as in the fable.

When Bezos and Blue Origin finally go to space, there will be competition, Messier said. For now, though, SpaceX is unique. Its real competition is with China. China looks at Musk and imitates what he does. They put a lot of money and a lot of prestige into their program. Musk isn’t really competing with the other two billionaires right now. He is competing with China.

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