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Jeff Bezos' Ambitious Space Plans

Space

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is offering a chance to buy tickets for space travel starting next year — and is taking on SpaceX’s chief Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson in the all-new intergalactic transportation business.

Blue Origin, a space travel startup owned by Bezos, will start selling passenger tickets in 2019.

Rob Meyerson, senior vice president at Blue Origin, just made the announcement at an Amazon Web Services event. Meyerson wouldn’t comment on how much the space travel tickets will cost.

Bezos is funding Blue Origin to the tune of $1 billion a year. Blue Origin has been putting together a rocket factory in Kent, Wash., for several years.

The space travel company will also be taking crewed test flights for its New Shepard rocket in the near future. That would place Bezos in competition with Musk and his booming SpaceX company.

They are in different leagues for now, with SpaceX rockets capable of taking astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. New Shepard is more like a rocket-powered observation deck. Those passengers willing to pay for the expensive ride will get to view the Earth for about four minutes.

Bezos’ company is developing the New Shepard suborbital system to fly customers and and science researchers on brief missions. New Shepard took its highest flight ever on April 29 in an un-crewed mission after launching from Blue Origin’s West Texas test site and later safely landing on a desert ground. Related: Banks Are Spending Billions On Artificial Intelligence

The ship made it to nearly 66 miles of altitude during the flight, the company said. That was nearly four miles higher than the 62-mile altitude astronomers recognize as the border between Earth and space.

Bezos is not competing directly with Musk for SpaceX’s primary customers — NASA and the U.S. Air Force. SpaceX just beat out the United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin — by winning a $130 million contract to launch a classified military satellite.

It will be launched from SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket along with the government’s AFSPC-52 satellite in 2020 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon Heavy will be much cheaper to launch than ULA’s Delta IV, and for now it’s the world’s largest and most powerful rocket.

Musk sees it as an excellent opportunity to win contracts in both the aerospace and national security sectors.

SpaceX was able to successfully recover from a series of failed launches in February. The space travel company was able to launch the Falcon Heavy rocket after seven years of testing and development. Analysts think that SpaceX could be well positioned win more military and NASA contracts.

Bezos is in more direct competition for space travel customers with Branson’s Virgin Galactic subsidiary.

Virgin Galactic says it has already sold about 650 tickets for its fully commercial suborbital flights, which are now booked until at least 2021. Virgin may not be able to reach its initial goal of starting these space flights by the end of this year. Blue Origin may be able to beat Virgin Galactic in this new marketplace, a crewed commercial spaceflight.

Branson has spent more than $600 million to help get commercial passenger flights into suborbital space. Virgin Galactic will be bringing hyper-fast airline flights to take travelers on fast flights from places like Boston directly to Beijing at about 774 miles per hour.

As for long-term plans, Branson is more in league with Bezos and Musk. He sees his company Virgin Galactic eventually providing luxury flight experiences while traveling much farther out in the galaxy, such as landing on Mars.

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Space travel is a hot commodity for other billionaires. Bill Gates’ old business partner, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, sees a large opportunity in offering shared rides to outer space. SpaceFlight, backed by Allen, is already booking payloads on flights and has bought up the capacity of a SpaceX rocket that can be shared by paying customers.

As Musk’s electric car company, Tesla, undergoes heavy criticism on Wall Street, speculation has increased over whether he’ll be able to handle the heavy workload of running both a space transport and car manufacturing company. As for now, he’s yet to even hint that he’ll be leaving either company.

Bezos has also raised questions about getting spread thin running both Amazon and Blue Origin. Bezos has become controversial and well-publicized in recent years as Amazon takes a dominant role in several sectors — including warehouses, data storage, and package shipping that’s taking a leading role in the U.S. competing with UPS and FedEx.

By John LeSage for Oilprice.com

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