Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: How Do They Stack Up?

Blue Origin New Shepherd space travel

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: How Do They Stack Up?

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: 6 Must-Know Facts

  • Blue Origin has a focus on humans living and working in space in the future, whereas Virgin Galactic’s goals are space tourism-oriented.
  • Virgin Galactic uses the 80-kilometer altitude as the “edge” of space, recognized by the U.S. Blue Origin, and marks it at the international norm of 100 kilometers.
  • The time passengers spend in weightlessness is very close, with Blue Origin at 3 minutes and Virgin Galactic at 4 minutes.
  • Because of the different technologies used, the total flight time differs dramatically. Blue Origin is an 11-minute flight, while Virgin Galactic’s flight time is around 2.5 hours.
  • Another striking difference between the two space billionaires is their net worth. Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson has a reported net worth of $4.7 billion, with Blue Origin’s Jeffrey Bezos at a mind-bending $171 billion.
  • The cost of being a space tourist differs quite a bit in 2022 depending on who your host is. With Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, passengers can expect to pay $250,000. Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic have raised the price to $450,000 for their next round of flights. In the case of Virgin Galactic, there is a $150,000 deposit required, of which $25,000 is non-refundable at the time of writing.

Billionaires and their fortunate (wealthy) passengers in space seem to be a common theme these days. Since the turn of the new millennium, several companies have been formed.

In this article, we’ll take a look at two of them side by side–Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. Founded in 2000 and 2004 respectively, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have entered the space race along with Elon Musk.

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: Full Comparison

From the outside looking in, it might seem that these two billionaires’ racing to carry humans to a unique, weightless view of the Earth is the same. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only are their technologies quite different, but their long-term goals don’t match up much either.

Branson sees his company as a way for citizens to experience the excitement of space travel for themselves. Bezos seems to be looking lightyears into the future to find alternatives to maintain our species and save the Earth by living and working in space.

Let’s dig in and find out everything there is to know about these bold pioneers and their companies, methods, and visionary takes on the future.

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Check out this side by side comparison:

Blue OriginVirgin Galactic
Established 2000 2004
Founder Jeff Bezos Richard Branson
Headquarters Kent, Washington Mojave, California
Employees 6,000 823
Revenue N/A $238,000 (2020)
Key People Jeff Bezos,
Bob Smith
Richard Branson,
Michael Colglazier,
Doug Ahrens
First Crewed Mission 20 July 2021 13 December 2018
Website BlueOrigin.com VirginGlactic.com

Blue Origin vs. Virgin Galactic: What’s the Difference?

Jeff Bezos comes in on the Forbes list of the wealthiest people in the world at #2, with a $171 billion net worth, behind Elon Musk at $219 billion. In comparison, Richard Branson hits the list at #601 with a net worth of $4.7 billion.

Now, to put that into perspective, a billion is a thousand million. That means that Bezos has approximately 166,000 million additional dollars than Branson—it appears not all billionaires are created equal.

This difference in funding capability could be one of the reasons that the technologies of the two companies are so different.

Blue Origin Technology

SpaceX vs Blue Origin

Launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with fifth Starlink mission.

Our next big difference is the launching and return methods for each mission. Blue Origin’s New Shepard makes a vertical launch powered by the BE-3 (Blue Engine 3) rocket engine.

After separation from the crew capsule in zero-G, the booster returns to Earth to be reused. The crew then gets a few minutes in space and returns to the Earth via a series of parachutes, with landing rockets firing at touchdown for a soft finish.

The one feature that is common to both companies is the reusability aspect of all their equipment—this will be the main factor in reducing costs in the future.

Blue Origin spacecraft
Blue Origin uses a Blue Engine-3 (BE-3) rocket engine for their New Shepard craft.

Virgin Galactic Technology

Virgin Galactic, on the other hand, uses a twin-fuselage jet that takes off like a normal airplane. The rocket-powered spaceplane VSS Unity is carried under its wing. At around 45,000 feet, if all systems are good to go, the Unity is released, and the rocket motor is ignited.

The spaceplane then goes into a near-vertical climb and heads for space. The hybrid rocket motor fires for about sixty seconds propelling Unity beyond the speed of sound before shutting down. At its maximum altitude of 53.5 miles (3.5 miles beyond the edge of space according to NASA), the passengers can unbuckle and enjoy a gravity-free view of Earth.

After a few moments, the unity begins its plunge back toward Earth and, at 55,000 feet, returns to a parallel fuselage orientation and becomes a glider, landing like any other airplane.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic’s twin-fuselage jet takes off just like a normal airplane.

A Brief History of Blue Origin

Blue Origin is the dream of a young Jeff Bezos, first articulated by the 18-year-old high school graduate in 1982. After taking Amazon to the top of the ranks of the largest companies in the world, Bezos began his pursuit of taking humans to space, founding Blue Origin in 2000.

The aerospace company began testing its designs in 2005 with its Charon vehicle and, in 2006, launched its first rocket-powered test flight with the Goddard vehicle. Testing continued through 2012, when the New Shepard was introduced for testing on their 7th launch and remains the vehicle of choice to date. On July 20th, 2021, Blue Origin launched its first crewed flight that included Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, and two others.

Update: As of the writing of this article, on 12 September 2022, Blue Origin launched an unmanned New Shepard that had an anomaly upon takeoff, separating the rocket from the crew capsule prematurely using the emergency abort function. It appears the crew capsule was protected and made a safe landing, which would have kept the crew unharmed. No further details are available at this time.

A Brief History of Virgin Galactic

Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic is the brainchild of billionaire entrepreneur, Richard Branson. Branson began his rise in the world of business in 1970 with the founding of Virgin Group.

From its inception in 2004 through 2014, Virgin Galactic faced many challenges and delays, culminating in a tragic crash on October 31st, 2014, killing co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring pilot Peter Siebold.

Branson and Virgin persevered through the setbacks and, in 2018, conducted a flight that earned the two pilots their astronaut wings. On July 11th, 2021 the VSS Unity made a successful flight with two pilots and four passengers, including Branson himself—beating Jeff Bezos to space by nine days.

Although there was some controversy surrounding the flight due to an FFA airspace violation, the flight was still considered a success.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic really go to space?

The international consensus on where space begins is called the Karman Line and is 100 kilometers in altitude. NASA and the U.S. recognize 80 kilometers for a pilot to earn their astronaut wings. So, although both companies’ crafts are sub-orbital (not going into orbit), they qualify as space flights based on the dual standards.

What is the mission of Blue Origin?

According to Blue Origin themselves, “to create a future where millions of people are living and working in space.” The ways in which they go about achieving this are reusable launch vehicles, increased safety, and a lowering of costs for all users.

What is the mission of Virgin Galactic?

Their mission is clear on the Virgin Galactic website: “our purpose is to connect people across the globe to the love, wonder and awe created by space travel.” There are also scientific experiments associated with each flight.

Who got to space first, Jeff Bezos or Richard Branson?

Although it was close, Richard Branson’s flight to space on July 11th, 2021 beat Jeff Bezos by nine days. Bezos took his New Shepard flight on July 20th, 2021.

What are the future plans for Blue Origin?

Jeff Bezos has an interesting and proactive view of the future. While addressing the problems that face humans and the Earth now is one focus, he also sees opportunity to improve life here by creating the ability to move out into space. His amazing vision includes, but is not limited to, moving damaging industry into space to protect the Earth and harnessing resources like water, hydrogen and oxygen from the moon.

What are the future plans for Virgin Galactic?

Branson himself summed this up pretty well, letting the world know that not only is Virgin making space tourism possible, but each flight has scientific implications for problems here on Earth. The company also has plans of reducing ticket cost and even raffling tickets to make the experience of space flight available to many more people.

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