A space race has been heating up in the private commercial sector and it involves some of the biggest names in high tech industries. In early May, reports indicated that Hawthorne, CA-based SpaceX, a company which is led by famed tech entrepreneur and engineer Elon Musk, saw the second successful landing of an unmanned rocket on a platform at sea. This follows a string of successes for SpaceX which include the company’s first landing of a reusable rocket at sea in April, as well as the first successful landing of a booster at Cape Canaveral last December in the first SpaceX flight since last June’s explosion of a Falcon 9 craft sent on a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
Increased business activities in the private commercial spaceflight sector has attracted other eyes attached to bodies which carry deep wallets. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), has lept into the fray with Kent, WA-based Blue Origin, Bezos’s own privately-funded spaceflight development initiative. Around the same time that news of SpaceX’s recent rocket landing was announced, Blue Origin released footage of a craft called New Shepard which reached an apogee of more than 339,000 feet, near the region of sky considered to be the border between Earth’s atmosphere and space. After a few minutes’ flight time in the skies over West Texas, the New Shepard craft returned to its launch pad and landed.
Right now it would seem to most observers that SpaceX has the lead in the private space race, although that lead may not be insurmountable. Blue Origin hasn’t been able to send a rocket into orbit and then land it successful back on the Earth’s surface. For its part, SpaceX just landed its Dragon capsule successfully in the Pacific Ocean yesterday, delivering more than 3,700 pounds of supplies from the ISS including a great number of samples for use in biotechnology, physical science and other forms of research.
But Blue Origin is no fly-by-night venture in the eyes of Bezos. An interview with the Blue Origin founder published by The Washington Post in early March unveiled his fullest vision of the company since it was established in September 2000. Similar to Musk’s concept of colonizing Mars, Bezos sees a future full of space tourism leading to what he reportedly called the “big inversion,” or the movement of all heavy industry from Earth to other planets in order to preserve our own planet’s environment. Remarks made by Bezos at the 32nd Space Symposium this April has also led to reports that, while launch equipment designed by Blue Origin will be available to satellite developers for commercial launch, Blue Origin itself will not develop satellites.
Space has typically been the domain of national governments here and abroad but a 2014 report on the space economy published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows how important private commercial entities will be to the future of space development. That report shows 58 percent of space-related revenues earned during 2013 were derived from consumer services delivered by private entities utilizing government R&D and infrastructure, like satellite TV. Last November, we covered an address given by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden where he implored corporate interests for investments in commercial crew activities and other projects to increase space development through public-private partnerships.