Elon Musk “won” the billionaire space race even after the rocket failed

Not every billionaire can watch his dream project literally burn to the ground at a cost of around $67 million and consider it an “exciting” launch.

But shortly after SpaceX’s Starship rocket blasted off on April 20 after just four minutes in the sky, Elon Musk triumphantly tweeted: “Congratulations to the @SpaceX team on the exciting Starship test launch! I learned a lot for my next test run in a few months.

That may not happen so quickly, especially with the upcoming FAA investigation.

“I would say three months is optimistic,” Douglas Messier, managing editor of ParabolicArc, a website that covers commercial space, told The Post. “I think it will take longer.

“There was an expectation problem. The original plan was to have the Starship crash on the shores of Kauai after a 90-minute flight,” Messier added. “Elon lowered expectations to get off the launch pad, and it did, but it didn’t work out as originally planned. Elon is very good at managing expectations.

It’s just the latest setback in the once lofty billionaire space race.

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

In September 2022, an unmanned New Shepard rocket exploded—only flames shot out from below. The abort system activated and the capsule, which had been designed for passengers, parachuted to the ground.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk is believed to be winning the billionaire space race despite a major stumble.

Elon Musk
When Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket blasted into the sky four minutes later, he was already ready for the next test launch.

There are no jails, and the problem was identified as an overheated rocket engine, but flights are currently suspended. It has been reported that Blue Origin “hopes to return to flight soon”.

There is also the issue of money.

“Every Blue Origin program is supposed to 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. “It’s not happening.”

Jeff Bezos in a Blue Origin spacesuit
Jeff Bezos has been slowed in his quest for space after an aborted mission that temporarily grounded flights.
Blue Origin/Cover Images/

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

“Branson is completely out of it,” Berger said, referring to serious space exploration. “Frankly, he was never a major player. Virgin Galactic is a tourism company. Virgin Orbit spent a lot of money developing a rocket that couldn’t go anywhere.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Musk, Bezos and Branson expressed great ambitions to send rockets into space.

Richard Branson in a Virgin Galactic space suit
Richard Branson’s satellite company Virgin Orbit 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’s a lot of selfishness at play here,” Brad Stone, author of “Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire,” told The Post at the time. “They are [some] of the most iconic entrepreneurs and all are used to winning.

Branson initially won the race by a nine-day lead. On July 11, 2021, he traveled 53 miles into the sky with two pilots and three employees, crossing what the United States recognizes as the outer space boundary.

The starship explodes
After a four-minute flight, Elon Musk’s starship exploded in the sky earlier this month.

Bezos — in a cowboy hat, no less — followed suit on July 20, but appeared to be ahead in the name game. In addition to barrier-breaking aviator Wally Funk, who flew with Bezos on the first flight, Blue Origin later sent celebrities William Shatner and Michael Strahan. The vehicle traveled 62 miles, crossing the Kármán line, which the company described as the “internationally recognized frontier of space.”

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

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

But will any of them ever get off the ground?

Blue Origin's capsule plunges into the sea
A New Shepherd ship from the Blue Origin fleet plunged into the sea after a fiery and aborted launch.

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

Rand Simberg, an aerospace technology consultant and author of Safe is Not an Option, believes Musk’s desire to be 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.”

Nevertheless, experts in the rocket world say Musk appears to be winning the space race now – even after the launch failure.

Virgin Orbit jet
Virgin Orbit was reportedly unable to secure funding to continue.

After all, Bezos has yet to test a serious rocket. And the semi-bankrupt Branson has become a non-subject at this stage of the contest.

“Elon is much more driven than Jeff,” Simberg said. “Jeff has treated it like a hobby. Jeff took his time. He created the analogy of the tortoise and the hare [about him and Musk]. Elon is winning right now. The hare is far ahead, and you will not catch up.

According to Eric Berger of “Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days that Launched SpaceX,” “Bezos invests $1 billion a year in his company. They are still working on New Glenn [a heavy-launch rocket]. It was expected to be launched in 2020. Now 2025 seems like a reasonable guess. However, by then SpaceX will have launched many rockets [all reusable, allowing for multiple launches per day]. Blue Origin is now behind us. At that point, they will fall further behind.

William Shatner and Jeff Bezos
William Shatner was one of the famous names who has acquired or plans to use Blue Origin.

And Musk isn’t the only one who sees the bright side of SpaceX’s recent decline.

“I think the launch was a successful failure,” Berger told The Post. “They got good data on the vehicle getting off the pad. They flew for four minutes and got a lot of data. It was a success. NASA couldn’t afford to fail like that publicly and learn from it. Congress will ask why they failed.

While Musk has dreams of colonizing Mars, Bezos has expressed his desire to create his own space colonies. In the long term, he envisions “millions of people living and working in space.” Branson continues to cherish hopes for permanent space tourism.

Jeff Bezos in a Blue Origin capsule
Bezos and Blue Origin plan to send passengers into space again this year.

In terms of its space tourism, Blue Origin had six successful flights. It is reported that in addition to the celebrities, 29 other passengers paid as much as 28 million dollars (a ticket purchased at an auction) for the 10-minute flight. The last crew job, in August 2022, reportedly cost about $2.5 million for two seats.

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

Branson, who has sent just one tourist flight so far, had some promising news on April 26.

Elon Musk raises his hands above his head in celebration
Musk’s dream remains the most ambitious, as he wants to colonize Mars.

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, designed for suborbital operations, flew on its own for the first time since 2021, landing safely after nine minutes of flight.

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

“It’s an agreement with Italy to do microgravity experiments,” Messier said. “It’s their first paid flight. The Italians are paying.”

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

Richard Branson is aboard Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson’s space tourism company will send a group of Italian Air Force passengers to the edge of space this year.
Virgin Galactic

“Then there are 800 people who have paid in advance,” Messier said. “[Virgin] started selling tickets in 2005. At some point they have to deliver.

Meanwhile, Musk has apparently made Bezos “absolutely jealous” with the contracts he’s making at SpaceX with commercial and government customers who pay to launch satellites into space.

“Elon built SpaceX as a revenue-hungry company,” Berger said. “They spend all the revenue on new projects.”

Still, Berger said Blue Origin shouldn’t be discounted just yet — in part because of Bezos’ genuine love of space. “He’s a huge fan boy,” Berger said. “He paid for the engines of the Saturn V rocket to be lifted from the Atlantic Ocean. Space is in his heart.”

Messier agrees, but believes that the real space race depends on the tortoise actually being able to catch up with the hare, as in the fairy tale.

“When Bezos and Blue Origin finally get into space, there will be competition,” Messier said. “For now, though, SpaceX is on its own. Its real competition is with China. China looks at Musk and imitates what he’s doing. They put a lot of money and a lot of prestige into their program. Right now, Musk isn’t really competing with the other two billionaires. He’s competing with China .

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