The two billionaires have the same vision for humanity, but in a slightly different way
Comparing The Ambitions Of Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin
Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are two of the most vocal funders of companies building spacecraft that will enable human access to space. Both billionaires through their companies SpaceX and Blue Origin respectively, want lower costs and increase the reliability of spacecraft.
Musk’s ultimate goal is establishing a self-sustaining and permanent city on Mars while Bezos is focused on building a road to space by building rockets that could pave way for floating colonies in space.
Their goals are different, but in some way, they are similar. We will compare their ambitions in space here.
Musk has always been obsessed with Mars. Before he sold Paypal to eBay in 2001, a move that netted him $250mor $180m after taxes, Musk had begun exploring ways of getting to Mars with a spacecraft called Mars Oasis. He pledged $20m to send it to the red planet.
The spacecraft would have a sealed chamber with dry nutrient gel and seeds inside it with the goal of creating a greenhouse on Mars. It would have tools to take photos of the plants and beam back these images to earth. Musk hoped that this would inspire Congress to fund crewed NASA missions to Mars.
But the $20m Musk had pledged was not enough for a launch. After failing to buy used Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from the Russians that Musk hoped to use for the launch, he decided to start SpaceX and design rockets that could lower the cost of access to space.
As a result, SpaceX developed Falcon 9 rockets with reusable boosters that are capable of landing themselves back to earth, which helped to lower the cost of a launch. This reusability gave the SpaceX rockets an edge over other orbital rockets that trash their boosters into the ocean or land. SpaceX successfully launched its first booster on Dec 21st, 2015
The following year, Musk announced plans for populating Mars. SpaceX would begin to work on a new fully reusable spacecraft dubbed Starship(after a few name changes). Musk gives annual updates on the progress of this spacecraft and is expected to do so on September 28th this year.
The Starship could ferry up to 100 people at a time and Musk estimates that a ticket on the spacecraft to Mars would cost $100,000-$500,000. SpaceX is building the Starship prototypes Mk 1 and Mk 2at its build sites at Boca Chica, South Texas and Cocoa, Florida.
Musk expects the full system by 2020 or 2021 with a crewed mission to the moon in 2023. Cargo launches to Mars will be in 2024 before a crewed mission to the red planet in 2026 and a permanent city in the 2030s.
Bezos, on the other hand, has always been interested in space colonies which were a concept imagined in the 1960s and early 1970s by the physicist Gerard 0’Neill. He talked about it in his valedictorian speech at his high school graduation.
Blue Origin wants to build a road to space with a new rocket called the New Glenn which will debut in 2021. The New Glenn will have reusable boosters that will have the ability to land back to earth like the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy of SpaceX. It will be used for future missions and lowering the costs of launches.
Blue Origin also has the New Shepard which is a smaller rocket and not designed to reach orbit. It will fly to the edges of space giving paying tourists a few minutes to experience weightlessness.
Bezos wants to use this experience of flying human passengers to space as a springboard to target the orbit with the New Glenn.
Blue Origin also launched the Blue Moon Lander in May which the company hopes will be selected by NASA as a commercial partner to get astronauts back to the moon.
The moon is an important plan of Bezos’ plans to build a road to space. He wants to use the moon as a depot and a launchpad to the solar system that has abundant resources.
If Blue Origin can make launches cheap, mine the moon for fuel, harvest the asteroids for metals and minerals and generate energy in space, then it might be possible to build space colonies and many people would move off the earth.
Bezos and Musk have big plans for humanity and they differ in the ultimate goals that they are chasing. But both agree that building reusable rockets is the key to lowering the cost of launches and opening up the space frontier.