Virgin Galactic Vs. SpaceX: The Commercial Space Race

Schwab Industries Blog

Quite a bit of ink has been spilled over the private company SpaceX recently: Their former CEO and Founder Elon Musk has made waves smoking marijuana on the Joe Rogan Show and with some-would-say extreme twitter chatter; Tesla is selling more cars than they can produce; and the company has sent a barrage of satellites into orbit on a number of different rocket platforms.

But Virgin Galactic seems to be catching up. Although likely less popular with the media, despite the best efforts of founder Sir Richard Branson, Virgin has pledged to offer the first commercial spaceflight, to those who can pay, this year.

Upon completion of what Virgin Galactic is calling a “historic first spaceflight,” Sir Branson remarked, “Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good… This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”

According to Bloomberg, Virgin Galactic already has 700 customers paying nearly a quarter million dollars to be among the first for the hour and a half flights.

So, is there a 21st-century “space race” happening? And this time not between cold-warring superpowers but Private American companies?

The answer is yes, absolutely. The newspapers are beginning to call it the “Billionaire Space Race,” with Fortune, The Daily Beast, Bloomberg, and Reuters all using the term.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and often the wealthiest man in the world, who we referenced recently in our article concerning AI, is also getting into the mix. His program is called Blue Origin, with the goal, “to dramatically lower costs and increase reliability.”


So who is winning the “Billionaire Space Race”?

Although Sir Branson plans to launch people into space in 2019, Musk’s program as a whole seems head and tails above the competition.

“Musk ‘is far and away in the lead right now in private rocket development,’” says former NASA astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, as reported by Reuters and reprinted in The Week. “SpaceX rockets regularly reach orbital space — Bezos hasn’t made that giant leap, which requires far more power and sophistication than his straight up, straight down New Shepards have shown. By year’s end, Musk hopes to unveil Falcon Heavy, his most massive booster rocket yet, designed to launch capsules to Mars.”

Bezos seems in a distant third, although he’s spoken of it as “the most important thing I’m doing.”

“Sending humans to outer space ‘is super important to me,” the billionaire said, as reported by CNBC News. “I believe on the longest time frame — and really here I’m thinking of a time frame of a couple hundred years, so over many decades…that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work I’m doing.”


So What Does This Mean for the Average Consumer?

Will you be able to take a trip into space, 2001 space Odyssey-Style anytime soon?

Unless you’re fabulously wealthy, probably not.

But what interest in space again, after nearly 50 years means, is jobs and an economic bump. While, very generally, technology is always coming down in price, and commercial spaceflight will almost certainly become cheaper as the years go on, companies like ours will see immediate benefits due to increased contracts and interest in the field.

We’ll also see improvements in labor readiness, due to the sexiness of spaceflight, and increased science around manufacturing process like stamping or milling or production design. Overall, the “billionaire space race” will be a boon to the American economy and companies like ours.

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