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
|Blue Origin||Virgin Galactic|
|Founder||Jeff Bezos||Richard Branson|
|Headquarters||Kent, Washington||Mojave, California|
|Key People|| Jeff Bezos, |
| Richard Branson,|
|First Crewed Mission||20 July 2021||13 December 2018|
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
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.
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.
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.
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.