Blue Origin vs. SpaceX – Which is Winning the Space Race?
There was a time when space exploration was the domain of superpowers like the United States and Russia. However, over the last two decades, the space race has evolved into the battleground of billionaire titans. Private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing programs to rival NASA. These firms have managed to break through the highest technological barriers to reach for the stars.
This article will review the progress of the two most prominent companies in the space industry.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX
Blue Origin and SpaceX, both founded in the early 2000s, have dominated the conversation on non-governmental space exploration. These companies have made huge strides, taking what many would have considered a pipedream and turning it into reality. Let’s look at the 20-year journey of these titans of the space industry.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX: Founding
In 2000, Jeff Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon, founded Blue Origin, a company that aims to democratize space travel. He started the company to make space travel more accessible.
To lower the high cost of spaceflight, Blue Origin started developing reusable rockets. The original single-launch system that had been in use was costly and a hindrance to mass space travel. After years of toiling away, the company emerged from the shadows with a few successful launches.
Although the company started slowly and has only managed to reach the edge of space, it still has plans to eventually launch rockets and explore distant regions.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. One of the most prominent figures in the technology industry, it’s believed that he was the inspiration for the character Tony Stark in Iron Man.
Musk started SpaceX to make space travel cheaper. Unlike Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Musk has no plans of hiding his goals, which are to colonize Mars and make the world’s first reusable space ship.
Due to its consistent launch capabilities, SpaceX has become a prominent player in the commercial space industry. In 2021, it launched 31 satellites for the Starlink satellite program, an initiative intended to provide internet to populations with little connectivity.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX: First Launch
On April 29, 2015, Blue Origin launched the New Shepard rocket from Texas. Named after Alan Shepard, the first American to fly to space, the flight, which reached an altitude of 307,000 feet, would have been successful except for one major hitch. The rocket’s propulsion system failed after it experienced a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system. This loss wouldn’t have been considered a failure as rockets at that time didn’t have recoverable propulsion systems. However, the plan was to make reusable rockets, so losing part of their rocket was not how things were supposed to go.
The test flight marked the first step in the journey of Blue Origin. The company then predicted that it would be several years before it could carry out suborbital flights. In fact, it took them another five years to reach this milestone.
Four years after SpaceX was founded, the company carried out its first test flight for Falcon 1. Unfortunately, the flight failed because of a fuel leak. However, the following year in 2008, the spacecraft was finally sent into orbit. After proving that SpaceX was capable of launching into space, Falcon 1 was retired to make way for Falcon 9. Both Falcon rockets were named after the spaceship in “Star Wars.” The numerical designator for the rockets is also referred to as the Merlin 9 engines.
The Falcon 9 was launched in June 2010 from NASA’s Cape Canaveral in a mission that the government agency partially funded. SpaceX has since flown more than 80 times and is regarded as a prominent player in modern spaceflight.
In 2012, SpaceX carried out another successful flight for the Falcon 9. It launched the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). The mission marked the first time a private spacecraft was launched to the ISS. While it could carry 7,000 pounds worth of supplies such as food and clothes, the Dragon only transported about 1,200 pounds.
After reaching orbit, the spacecraft traveled for three days to the station to ensure that its various systems were operating properly. SpaceX continues to make deliveries to the ISS and has made 24 such trips since that first flight in 2012. Their 25th visit is expected to be in May of 2022.
SpaceX seems to have made more headway than Blue Origin in consistently getting rockets to outer space.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX: Reusable Rockets
After experiencing a technical issue during the first test flight, Blue Origin successfully carried out another test flight in 2015. The rocket landed on the ground without incident.
By this point, SpaceX and Blue Origin were officially in a race to be the first company to successfully recover a rocket for reuse. Although SpaceX is known for its reusable Dragon 9 rockets, Blue Origin was able to break that record first. Less than a month after Blue Origin achieved this feat, SpaceX successfully recovered the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket.
Both companies were able to realize the goal of making space flight more affordable and reliable by allowing the use of booster rockets for multiple flights.
Up to this point, Blue Origin had primarily been focused on suborbital flights. However, in 2019, the company expanded its ambitions and developed a lunar lander. It displayed a full-scale model of the Blue Moon spacecraft at an event attended by Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. The lander could be used for uncrewed missions to the surface of the moon.
In 2020, Blue Origin and its partners were awarded a $579 million contract by the U.S. government to develop a landing system for humans on the Moon. However, the role of the lander for the next generation of human spaceflights will be handled for NASA by SpaceX and not Blue Origin.
Following the termination of the U.S. space shuttle program in 2011, the country lost its capability to launch astronauts from American soil. All of the crew members of the Soyuz spacecraft were launched from Russia.
NASA started to focus on developing technology that would return the capability to launch from the U.S. The agency’s goal was achieved in 2020 through the Demo-2 flight. The flight, which took place on the 30th of May, 2020, ferried astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley to the International Space Station. This was SpaceX’s last test flight of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.
Since then, SpaceX has launched several missions to the ISS, including some that carried larger crews. The Crew Dragon’s successful flight demonstrated the company’s capability to safely carry out human spaceflights.
SpaceX has gained ground in the reusable rocket space by partnering with NASA. Not only have they managed to manufacture this equipment, but they are also using it consistently to advance human efforts in outer space.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX: Verdict
During the early days of development, it seemed as though Blue Origin was focused on space tourism while SpaceX was more interested in exploring other planets. However, both companies have proved themselves capable of delivering on their goals.
SpaceX has quickly established itself as a viable commercial spaceflight company in this battle of titans. Due to the number of missions that SpaceX has successfully completed, including those to the ISS, it has a significant advantage over Blue Origin. In fact, SpaceX’s involvement in the upcoming missions of NASA’s Artemis spacecraft cement its position as the number one private space company globally.
Ultimately, the competition between these two companies has made space travel more realizable, which is a win for the human race.
Have you ever considered taking a trip to outer space? Which of these two companies would you choose for a trip of a lifetime? Let us know in the comments section below.