Inside the Space Race: Branson, Bezos, and the future of the space industry

Monday, July 12, 2021 by Robinhood Snacks | Disclosures
_Spotted, UFB: Unidentified Flying Billionaire [Marc Ward/Stocktrek Images via GettyImages]_

Spotted, UFB: Unidentified Flying Billionaire Marc Ward/Stocktrek Images via GettyImages

Comet me, bro... The Space Battle of the Billionaires has moved from the Twitter sphere to the thermosphere. Yesterday, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson boarded Virgin's VSS Unity, traveling faster than three times the speed of sound to reach the edge of space. Branson just became the first billionaire founder of a space company to go to space on his own spacecraft (meta). Next up is Jeff Bezos, who announced his own trip before Branson decided to out-space him. The former Amazon CEO plans to take off on a Blue Origin spaceplane on July 20, along with his brother and a mystery bidder who's dropping $28M to join them — or $2.5M per minute of ride time.

Spaghetti Apollo-gnese... Apart from fueling billionaires' egos, these trips are major endorsements for NASA-sponsored space tourism (think: restaurant bookings on the ISS). NASA is leaning on private companies to help commercialize space. In May last year, Elon's SpaceX became the first private company to send humans to space. In May, Virgin completed its first human spaceflight, a critical step before it flies space tourists — ETA: early 2022. While $250K tickets to space make headlines, tourism is still a tiny sliver of the space industry.

  • Satellites: One of the largest space industry subsectors, providing everything from WiFi, to telecom, to GPS and weather sensing. SpaceX's Starlink project has already launched 1K+ high-speed internet satellites into low earth orbit — and is accepting $99 preorders.
  • Defense: The real-life Space Force. For fiscal year 2022, the Pentagon requested $21B to invest in outer space security. Defense giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing both have space divisions.
  • NASA missions: Boeing is developing a spacecraft for NASA flights, and Elon's SpaceX won a $2.9B contract to develop a NASA lunar lander, beating out Bezos' Blue Origin (RIP Prime Moon delivery).

This isn't sci-fi... The space industry is taking off in a real way. Space startups raised $7B in 2020, double what they raised in 2018. Today "space customers" mainly consist of governments and companies paying to launch satellites, cargo, and astronauts into space. In the not-so-distant future, they could be commercial space tourists. In the more distant future, they could be space colonizers on the Moon and even Mars (see: Elon's Martian vision).