SpaceX and Blue Origin are two of the largest private space companies in the world. Both have been racking up milestones for the past few years, and they have similar goals as well.
Another similarity the two companies have is the financial strength of their backers. SpaceX is mainly owned by Elon Musk, the CEO of automobile company Tesla Inc. and the world’s second-richest man. Musk’s wealth only trails that of Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon Inc. – and the founder of Blue Origin.
So, with so much in common, it is worth understanding what these companies have that ties them together and how the existence of one tends to affect the other.
Standing Out from the Crowd
To be fair, Musk and Bezos aren’t the only two people looking to get people to space. The space race has long been a competition between countries, with the United States and Russia particularly headlining this competition back in the 20th century. However, Musk and Bezos have grandiose plans that span much more than just getting people to space and witnessing the majesty of the world unknown.
The two men set up Blue Origin and SpaceX as pet projects that have kept them effective, and they channel a great deal of their wealth to them.
Distinctions between SpaceX and Blue Origin reached a fever pitch in 2015. At the time, SpaceX had been trying its best to land its Falcon 9 rocket after launching it. The objective was for every part of the rocket to land on a floating barge at sea. However, SpaceX had run two landing tests, and the Falcon 9 had failed on both fronts.
The rocket’s recovery would have been a significant part of SpaceX’s success. Considering that SpaceX initially set out to make reusable rockets, there would be no point if the vehicles wouldn’t be able to land in the first place.
Then, on November 24, 2015, Blue Origin shocked the world, announcing that it had landed a rocket of its own. After launching the New Shepherd rocket to the edge of space, Blue Origin was able to make the vehicle touch down at a test facility. Bezos took to Twitter to boast about the accomplishment, which he claimed was the “rarest of feats.”
Many immediately began comparing Blue Origin’s achievement with that of SpaceX and what the latter was trying to do. It nearly seemed that Blue Origin had silently beaten SpaceX in the race for rocket reusability. Musk took issue with the statement, and he immediately fired off tweets stating that the SpaceX Grasshopper rocket had conducted six suborbital flights as far back as 2012 and was still there.
So, it begs the question of what made the two rockets so different – and, by extension, what made SpaceX radically different from Blue Origin.
Different Craft, Different Goals
In truth, there is a significant difference between the Flacon 9 and the New Shepherd. The former is designed to launch payloads – such as cargo and satellites – into orbit around the Earth and other surrounding environments. That is why the design looks so tall and thin. The design creates less drag on the rocket, allowing it to reach escape velocity faster and more easily and go deeper into space.
However, the Falcon 9’s shape also presents a problem – the difficulty of effectively landing back uprightly. The rocket has engines at the bottom that help to keep it in position as it lands. Still, the maneuver is quite dangerous, and it makes the rocket prime to fall over.
The New Shepard isn’t exactly meant to go as high as the Falcon 9. That’s why the rocket looks bulkier. The rocket is only designed to transport people for sub-orbital flights – a trip that will take just about four minutes. Considering that an object at this height isn’t as fast enough to rotate around the Earth, the rocket cannot break free of the gravitational force.
To be fair on Blue Origin, the part of the Falcon 9 that needs to be recovered won’t reach orbit either. SpaceX is only looking to land the rocket’s first stage – that long body that houses most of the fuel and the engine. The section breaks away from the remaining part of the rocket while in sub-orbital space, then it falls back to the Earth.
All in all, there have been a lot of comparisons between Blue Origin’s offering and that of SpaceX. However, these rockets are built for different things, and it seems rather impossible to draw a basis for comparison.
How SpaceX and Blue Origin Differ
This lack of a comparison basis draws back to the difference between SpaceX and Blue Origin. While SpaceX is looking to transport astronauts into space and provide a safer, cost-effective way of doing so, Blue Origin focuses more on sub-orbital flights for now. SpaceX already made significant progress with its objective after successfully carrying astronauts to the International Space Station last year.
As for Blue Origin, the company has now pivoted to carrying passengers as well. Earlier this month, the company announced the 14th successful test of its New Shepard rocket booster and capsule. The test marked one of the final stages before Blue Origin flies its first crew into space. The company is looking to launch its first crewed flight by early April.