The billionaire space race is only a race by name. In reality, there is SpaceX – and everyone else. Only the company founded by Elon Musk nearly two decades ago has sent an orbital rocket booster into space and landed it safely again. Only SpaceX has landed a rocket the size of a 15-storey building on a drone ship in the middle of the ocean. Only SpaceX has carried both Nasa astronauts and private citizens to the International Space Station. Only SpaceX is producing thousands of its own table-sized communication satellites every year. Only SpaceX has the almost weekly launch cadence necessary to single-handedly double the number of operational satellites in orbit in less than two years. Only SpaceX is launching prototypes of the largest and most powerful rocket ever made, a behemoth called Starship that is destined to carry humans to the moon.
SpaceX’s total dominance of the rocket industry is not what you would expect. There is more innovation happening in the commercial space sector today than at any time in history, and the launch services sector is particularly competitive. Relativity Space is building the world’s first 3D -printed rocket and plans to build rockets on Mars with robots. Virgin Orbit is putting satellites into orbit by launching a rocket from beneath the wing of a jumbo jet. Its sister company, Virgin Galactic, is flying people to the edge of space from an air-launched space plane. RocketLab has developed the first rocket engine fed with an electric pump and is trying to catch it out of the air with a net connected to a helicopter.
And then there’s Blue Origin, which dominated world headlines for days last week with its launch of the Star Trek actor William Shatner – briefly – into space.
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