Remember the billionaire space race? In case you forgot:
The billionaire space race is the rivalry among entrepreneurs who have entered the space industry from other industries – particularly computing. This private industry space race of the 21st century involves sending rockets to the ionosphere (mesosphere and thermosphere), orbital launch rockets, and suborbital tourist spaceflights. Today, the billionaire space race is primarily between three billionaires and their respective firms: Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which is seeking to establish an industrial base in space.Richard Branson’s Virgin Group (through Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit), which seeks to dominate space tourism, low-cost small orbital launch vehicles, and intercontinental sub-orbital spaceflight. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which seeks to colonize Mars as well as provide satellite-based internet through its Starlink project.
Well it seems one of the billionaires is bowing out. Branson’s is slashing 85% of his workforce at Virgin Orbit and it seems it is ceasing operation for the foreseeable future. Virgin Orbit has exploded in space…crashed to earth…pick your metaphor.
In some ways the billionaire space race was peak billionaire. I suspect Jeff Bezos was looking for something to do and saw Musk as a challenge, Musk was still somewhat respected and the leader, and Branson was….well, just being Branson.
Now it’s down to two. I was always happy for Musk’s SpaceX forcing NASA to change for the better. In my mind, the more missions to space, the better. But the folly of Branson was due to end. And now it has.