Musk’s SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos’ Blue Origin
SpaceX’s strong competitive advantage over Blue Origin arises from its wealth of flight-proven hardware, including its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets and Dragon spacecraft. It is developing a Starship rocket that promises to revolutionize space travel. Blue Origin has a suborbital rocket called New Shepard, which is about to be operational, and an orbital rocket called New Glenn in development.
The news that Blue Origin’s New Shepard would, at long last, fly with passengers was all but drowned out by all the media coverage of Elon Musk and his various doings. The New Shepard is scheduled to fly on July 20, 2021, with a crew of primarily Blue Origin employees. There will be one seat put up for auction. The flight will consist of a hop to just past the edge of space and back.
Meanwhile, Axiom, a company working on a private space station, just closed a deal with NASA to fly four private astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). The Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) flight will take place on a SpaceX Crew Dragon. The Crew Dragon has been flying astronauts to and from the ISS for the past year. SpaceX has a number of both NASA and commercial spaceflights lined up, including Inspiration-4, designed to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. A several-days’ trip into Earth’s low orbit is more fun than a brief, suborbital jaunt.
The planned Blue Origin New Glenn orbital rocket that could compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets may have its first launch in late 2022 at the earliest. It should be noted that Kuiper, Jeff Bezos’ answer to Musk’s Starlink internet satellite constellation, will launch on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rockets and not on a New Glenn.
SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Blue Origin when it comes to helping NASA return to the moon. A version of the SpaceX Starship won out over the Blue Origin Blue Moon and another design by Dynetics for the first lunar Human Landing System (HLS). NASA believed that the Starship is a superior design. Also, the space agency is impressed that Musk is spending a lot of his own money developing the Starship. The stainless-steel rocket recently achieved a milestone by not only successfully launching, but landing intact without blowing up. Bezos has been reduced to filing an action with the General Accounting Office (GAO) complaining about the NASA decision.
Even in the area of personal branding, Musk has stolen a march from Bezos. Politicians, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and some in the media have inveighed against billionaires as a class that grinds down the workers and refuses to pay their “fair share” of taxes. The geeky, self-effacing Musk we saw on Saturday Night Live turned out to be someone who is impossible to dislike, causing a “seismic shift” in his personal brand. Meanwhile, Bezos remains a bête noire for the left.
Ironically, Blue Origin retains a lot of potential to be competition for SpaceX. According to a new book about Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com is consumed with envy of SpaceX. Nevertheless, he seems unable to jump-start his space launch company out of the traditional aerospace ennui and turn it into the swashbuckling, risk-taking enterprise that SpaceX has become.
Bezos has the power to get out of the trap he has set for himself. He, like Musk, can start spending more of his own money. He should scrap the deal to launch the Kuiper constellation with ULA and pay to use the New Glenn to put it into space, thus proving to the world the efficacy of his new rocket. He could order the team that designed the Blue Moon Human Lunar Lander to go back to the drawing board to redesign the vehicle to make it more competitive with the SpaceX Lunar Starship. He might even pay for a test flight to the moon out of his own pocket.
Bezos, by the way, should postpone his plans to buy the mother of all yachts, a vessel so large that it takes a smaller yacht just to support it. The half-billion that he is spending on the ship would be better spent building Blue Origin into a true, entrepreneurial space company. As cool as Musk is, he would benefit from the competition.
Mark Whittington, who writes frequently about space and politics, has published a political study of space exploration entitled Why is It So Hard to Go Back to the Moon? as well as “The Moon, Mars and Beyond.” He blogs at Curmudgeons Corner. He is published in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Hill, USA Today, the LA Times and the Washington Post, among other venues.
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