Not content with being one of the richest people on this planet, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has poured rocket fuel on the space race between uber-wealthy entrepreneurs, booking himself a ticket to space.
When he blasts off from West Texas next month, he’ll beat his billionaire rivals by becoming the first man launched into space in one of his own company’s designs.
Meanwhile, tech billionaire Elon Musk (whose market interventions have already taken cryptocurrency prices to the moon and back) and his company SpaceX continue to develop reusable spacecraft, as Virgin boss Richard Branson readies himself for a trip into space.
Here’s the latest on the space race for the ultra-rich.
Jeff Bezos leaves the planet (briefly) next month
It was announced overnight that Mr Bezos will be on board the maiden passenger flight of his rocket company Blue Origin’s New Shepard project.
New Shepherd has conducted more than a dozen test flights ahead of the passenger flight, which is set to launch on July 20 — the 52nd anniversary of the moon landing.
The rocket-and-capsule combination has room for six passengers, and a spot alongside Mr Bezos and his brother is currently up for auction.
Its 11-minute autonomous flight involves liftoff in a small pressurised capsule attached to a rocket.
Passengers are shot into space, more than 100 kilometres above the earth’s surface, and descend in the capsule, which is lowered gently by parachutes.
The company plans to offer commercial flights to space but is yet to begin selling tickets or announce how much they would cost.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is shooting for Mars
Mr Musk’s SpaceX company marked the milestone of its first mission with people aboard last year, when it sent two astronauts to the International Space Station.
The company’s plans also involve sending humans to the Moon and Mars — and a passenger flight orbiting the moon is currently scheduled for 2023.
The only confirmed passenger is Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, and applications are open for other spaces on the scheduled flight.
But it plans the world’s first “all civilian” space flight in September.
SpaceX’s Starship program is also in development and is noted for its often explosive prototype tests.
The most recent test flight of the vertical-landing spacecraft was the first not to end in a fiery explosion.
Mr Musk’s stated goal is to use reusable space travel technology to colonise Mars, and has set a goal of sending an unmanned craft there by 2024.
Richard Branson could be hot on Bezos’s jet trails
Virgin founder and part-time adventurer Richard Branson is also keen to take a ride on Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, which conducted its third successful flight two weeks ago.
And while he announced the plans last year, he is yet to get a chance to do so.
Unlike craft developed by SpaceX and Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity more closely resembles an aeroplane and is not launched from the ground.
Instead, the craft is launched from a carrier plane at an altitude of 50,000 feet.
It’s also piloted, whereas the others are automated.
Mr Branson sent congratulations to Mr Bezos after the announcement of a July 20 lift-off.
“Jeff started building [Blue Origin] in 2000, we started building [Virgin Galactic] in 2004 & now both are opening up access to space — how extraordinary!” he said on Twitter.
Virgin Galactic said last month that it expects commercial passenger flights to begin as early as next year.
It’s previously charged $US250,000 ($322,000) for a ticket, and says sales will resume after Mr Branson’s flight.
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