Becoming the two richest men in the world isn’t an easy task. All the innovation aside, these guys have to be thinking about the market value of what they’re doing and how it can be monetized at full capacity. Starlink and Blue Origin are not only battling it out to explore space, but also to get their share of the exploding internet, mobile phone, and eventually, the space mining, markets.
With over one-third of the world’s population still not online, these companies are surely going to figure out how to get their share if they can. With that said, there are some striking differences in the ways these two companies are moving forward. Starlink’s mission is pretty straightforward, while Blue Origin’s path is a bit harder to put a label on.
Let’s break down how these two space exploration companies compare to get some answers.
Starlink vs. Blue Origin: A Side-by-Side Comparison
|Founder||Elon Musk||Jeff Bezos|
|Headquarters||Hawthorne, California||Kent, Washington|
|Total Satellites Planned||42,000||N/A|
|Progress||Currently serving consumers||Planning phases|
|Budget||Undetermined||$500 million (to date)|
|Cost of Service||$599 (set up), $110/mo.||N/A|
Starlink vs. Blue Origin: 7 Must-Know Facts
- These two satellite internet services are run by the two richest men in the world, as of 2022.
- Musk’s Starlink is light years ahead of Bezos’ Blue Origin on internet service, as of this writing.
- Both Starlink and Blue Origin are working on reusable space components to reduce the cost of space exploration and travel.
- Unlike Starlink’s Musk, Jeff Bezos flew Blue Origins’ first manned flight to space as one of a four-person crew.
- Both projects collaborate with other companies and agencies, including the U.S. military.
- Starlink currently uses the Falcon 9 rocket to launch its satellites, but SpaceX’s other version, the Falcon Heavy, is the most powerful rocket in the world today.
- Jeff Bezos knew he was going to space at a very young age. As a high school graduate, Bezos envisioned “getting all people off Earth and making it a huge national park.”
Starlink vs. Blue Origin: Starlink History, Technology, and What’s Happening Now
For those of us who can’t get enough space and technology information, this has to be one of the most exciting races since the Russians versus the U.S. in the early days of satellite and space innovation.
Here’s a full breakdown of Starlink to get our comparison off the ground.
We have a tendency to cover the highlights of our heroes’ accomplishments, and that’s cool. But the development of such bold endeavors isn’t always a smooth ride. Here’s a brief rundown of the highs and lows of Starlink’s journey thus far.
- Starlink was first announced by Elon Musk in 2016.
- Its first satellites launched in 2019 using the Falcon9 reusable rocket.
- On February 4, 2022, the launch lost 40 of the 49 satellites put in orbit to a geomagnetic storm.
- As of September 2022, Starlink has over 2,300 satellites in orbit and 500,000 users worldwide.
- Ongoing concerns of astronomers and skeptics regard the effects of the huge number of satellites Starlink has planned, blocking the view of the night sky and making LEO an unsustainable environment.
- Starlink continues to launch successfully five times a month with an average of 50+ satellites per mission.
This is an arena where few can compete with Elon Musk. Regardless of criticisms, the technological details that Starlink has put in place are nothing short of amazing.
From the reusable rockets, the satellites, and the ground stations and communications between them, the technology is over the top. We’ll break it down into three parts: the launching rockets, the satellites, and the ground and communication systems.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket
Let’s start with the Falcon 9 rocket and bringing it home to use again. The initial design of Falcon 9 stood at 180 feet tall and had a diameter of 12 feet. The latest version of Falcon 9, the full thrust Block 5, is much taller at a height of 226.6 feet and the same diameter as the original version. The rocket is a two-stage unit, with the first stage powered by nine Merlin rockets and the second stage powered by one.
The most awe-inspiring feature of the Falcon 9 is the rocket’s return to Earth. After separation, the rocket coasts for a while, then thrusters are turned on to orient the first stage to come in bottom first. Three of the nine Merlin engines are turned on at this point to guide the rocket back to Earth at 3,000 mph. As it enters Earth’s atmosphere, the center booster turns on to slow down descent and grid fins are engaged to control the re-entry. With the last engine burn, the unit slows to 5 mph and four legs unfold. As Falcon 9 sets down, compressed helium is ejected for a smooth touchdown.
Starlink’s LEO Satellites
If you follow Starlink’s mission, you’re probably familiar with the fact that the satellites that make up the constellation are in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This simply means these satellites are closer to the Earth than traditional higher satellites. They orbit at an altitude of about one-third the radius of the Earth and make a minimum of 11 orbits per day.
But, this is only one of the interesting aspects of SpaceX’s design. At about 500 lbs. each, Starlink’s satellites are equipped with an onboard autonomous anti-collision system to avoid other LEO debris and spacecraft. This system is another first for Musk and SpaceX.
They are also equipped with Krypton-powered ion thrusters which allow them to maneuver in space and also deorbit to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere when their mission is done.
Starlink’s Dish and Ground Communications
In its initial stages, Starlink will use ground stations to link signals sent from space to data centers which will then connect the information to fiber networks. When the v2.0 satellites come online, they will communicate with each other using lasers and will eliminate the need for said ground stations.
For direct connection with the constellation, Starlink has two different dishes available. The dishes use phased array antenna technology and are self-motorized to align with satellites. The standard dish comes with the user setup kit and costs $599. The upgraded double antenna dish, recommended for users who live in very rugged and remote areas, will cost a hefty $2,500 if you want to go top of the line. With the latest plans, the monthly fee stays the same for both dishes at $110.
Starlink: What’s Happening Now?
We have already taken a brief look at the Starlink launch schedule, but what else is planned? With SpaceX and Starlink partnering with the U.S. military and Facebook, just to name a couple of big players, one thing’s for certain — they have “plans.”
Elon Musk said this week that “Starlink’s service is now active in Antarctica, making their internet available on all continents.” He also stated that “another launch of v2.0 with lasers has reached orbit” on the latest Falcon 9 launch.
Blue Origin History
It almost seems like satellite internet service is an afterthought for Blue Origin. When you listen to founder, Jeff Bezos, talk about people living and working in space, he doesn’t seem very concerned with the future of the internet here on Earth. Through Amazon, he does have Project Kuiper in the works, so there must be some interest.
Now, let’s break down the successes and failures of Blue Origin, its partners, and plans, to see how they compare to Starlink.
- Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Amazon legend and billionaire, Jeff Bezos.
- March 2005 marked the first successful launch of the Charon test vehicle, named for Pluto’s moon.
- In August 2011, the test of PM2 failed when ground control lost contact with the vehicle.
- In November 2015, the New Shepard 2 begins a series of successful launches and reuses of vehicles.
- In July 2021, the first manned rocket was launched with Bezos on board.
- In September 2022, the New Shepard 3’s unmanned crew suffered a booster failure. The crew capsule lands safely, but the accelerator crashed.
Blue Origin Technology
With Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, it’s hard to keep track of everything they’re up to and separate one company from the other. In Musk’s case, it’s a little easier because there are more definitive lines. For Blue Origin, things can get a little tricky.
Here’s some of the technology Blue Origin has developed thus far:
- The space vehicles include Charon, Goddard, New Shepard, New Glenn, New Armstrong, Blue Moon, and the interesting LEO “mixed-use business park” Orbital Reef.
- The rocket engines include The BE series (Blue Engine) 1-4, which began using peroxide as a propellant, then moved to kerosine/peroxide, then to liquid hydrogen/oxygen, and finally, BE-4 uses liquid methane/oxygen.
Blue Origin: What’s Happening Now?
One thing Blue Origin has made clear is that the Blue Moon lunar landing vehicle is set for 2024, moving Blue Origin’s plans to colonize the moon into the next phase.
The company has also partnered with or discussed operations with the likes of NASA, Northrop Gruman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. With a list of associates like that, the sky is truly the limit when it comes to the future of Blue Origin.
The Orbital Reef project is scheduled to get going before 2030.
Summing it Up
It will be intriguing and exciting to see where it all leads and how Musk and Bezos go down in history. We may have to subscribe to the “Mars Sun-Times” to find out.
At this point, it has to be said that when it comes to internet satellite service, Elon is clearly in the lead. But, in the race for all things space, it’s safe to say that Blue Origin takes home the prize.