While SpaceX gets plenty of publicity for its attempt to take over the mission of carrying NASA astronauts, Musk was quick to emphasize the company’s business beyond those governments’ contracts. Of the 46 missions SpaceX has contracted, only 12 are for NASA. The rest are commercial. Musk envisions a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.
Ayantika Halder & Anustup Roy Barman
Almost half a century after the American Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, entrepreneurs are titillating the public’s imagination with extraterrestrial possibilities once again. The new power brokers of business are bringing changes in the world’s economy by leaps and bounds through their innovations and inventions. Space tech entrepreneurs are among the most powerful businessmen in the world. We spotlight some of these heavyweights.
I. Elon Musk
South African entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for founding Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which launched a landmark commercial spacecraft in 2012.
After dropping out of his PhD programme at Stanford University in California, Musk and his brother Kimbal launched a software company in 1995 called Zip2, using $28,000 of their father’s money. That same year, Musk co-founded X.com, an online banking company, using $10 million from the sale of Zip2. A year after that, with the dot-com bubble fully popped and a preponderance of tech companies closing their virtual doors, X.com purchased Confinity, another online financial services firm, and its money-transfer service, called PayPal.
After such success, Musk decided to start a company that would build affordable rockets, using vertical integration and the modular approach of software engineering. The ideas culminated in his launch of SpaceX in 2002, whose mission was to create a “true spacefaring civilization”. Musk invested $100 million for SpaceX. The company named its first two launch vehicles Falcon 1, after the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. The Falcon 1 made the history books in 2009 as the first privately funded, liquid-fuelled rocket to put a satellite into Earth orbit. SpaceX has continued to make history since then. When its SpaceX Dragon vehicle docked with the International Space Station in 2012, it was the first commercial company to do so.
In 2006, NASA gave SpaceX a contract to develop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which it followed up with another $1.6 billion contract in 2008. But beyond headlines and profits, Musk sees SpaceX as filling a vital need.
Musk’s company SpaceX successfully launched a 227-foot tall rocket from Cape Canaveral and berthed its Dragon capsule with the International Space Station.
Musk had successfully made the Dragon capsules translate to manned space flight. He said, “It is an autonomous vehicle. It pauses at intervals to ask permission to continue, but it’s doing everything itself if the Dragon was adapted to carry astronauts, little would need to change, other than the increased payload and an added emergency escape system with higher safety margins.”
He has also planned upgrades to the landing system. Version 1, which is on the Dragon capsules, uses parachutes to achieve a water landing. Version 1.5, uses parachutes to bring down the Dragon for a soft touchdown on land. Version 2 uses the escape thrusters to decelerate towards the earth, like a moon landing. While SpaceX gets plenty of publicity for its attempt to take over the mission of carrying NASA astronauts, Musk was quick to emphasise the company’s business beyond those governments’ contracts. Of the 46 missions SpaceX has contracted, only 12 are for NASA. The rest are commercial. Musk envisions a self-sustaining civilization on Mars.
Musk recently announced that SpaceX plans to take its first space tourists on a trip around the moon by the end of 2018. Two wealthy individuals have paid a “significant deposit” to spend a week aboard one of the company’s capsules, during which they will head towards the moon, loop around it, and return to earth.
II. Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Amazon.com, the online merchant of everything that has played a significant role in the upliftment of e-commerce. With an estimated net worth of $66.7 billion, Jeff was listed as the third wealthiest person in the world in 2016. Under his guidance, Amazon.com has also risen up to a market cap of $292.6 billion and has become the world’s largest online retailer and a model for internet sales. Jeff is also the proud owner of a privately-funded aerospace developer and manufacturer “Blue Origin” .
“Blue Origin” is a human spaceflight start-up company that was founded in 2000 due to his love for space travel. The idea was to commercialise space travel. The company was kept secret for a few years, and only came to be known publicly in 2006 when it purchased a large piece of land in west Texas for the launch and test facility. In November 2015, Blue Origin’s New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space and also reached its planned test altitude before executing an historic vertical landing back at the launch site in West Texas. Blue Origin in an extensive flight test programme of New Shepard and expects to begin carrying “test passengers” in 2017 and initiate commercial flights in 2018. Currently, it is building six vehicles that will support all phases of testing and operations.
He has made several business investments through his personal investment company – “Bezos Expeditions”.
Bezos has put $500 million of his own money into Blue Origin. Its first operational rocket, New Shepard, which Bezos named after America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard, was designed fresh, down to the steerable tail fins at its base. It flies into space nose-first and back to earth tail-first, with a ring near the top of the rocket’s first stage that acts as a circular fin to stabilize the rocket as it descends at the speed of sound. The crew capsule has the largest windows ever on a spacecraft, single, multilayered acrylic panes that are 3.5 feet tall and 2 feet wide, no minor detail when Bezos’ vision for commercialising Blue Origin, especially in the early going, is ferrying tourists to suborbital space.
Blue Origin announced its second rocket, New Glenn, a huge leap in scale, almost as tall as the legendary Saturn V Moon rocket, with 35 times the lifting power of New Shepard. It will be a giant spacecraft that will carry astronauts and payloads to low-earth orbit destinations and beyond.New Glenn is designed to go into the earth orbit and then to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and land tail-first despite its enormous size. These first two rockets are Model T’s. Even as they are being built and tested, their more capable successors are in the planning and design stages.
A few days back, Bezos tweeted a picture of the BE-4 rocket engine which has been under development for four years. It is now complete and will be used to power the New Glenn rocket. He tweeted another picture of the BE-4 engine being transported but did not say where it was being taken. Blue Origin has a test site in West Texas. Seven BE 4 engines will be required to power one New Glenn rocket, which will be 23 feet in diameter and be as high as 313 feet, depending on the payload. Bezos wants to fly the rocket before the end of the decade.
Blue Origin is also working with the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing to provide launch services for the US government. The ULA is building a new rocket called Vulcan, which will employ the BE-4 engines. Besoz recently confirmed that he is hatching plans to start shipping to the moon. This isn’t Amazon’s biggest publicity stunt yet, rather a plan for Blue Origin to begin ferrying equipment and supplies to the earth’s nearest neighbour in order to help set up a “future human settlement”.
III. Richard Branson
Born on July 18, 1950, in Surrey, England, Richard Branson struggled in school and dropped out at age 16, a decision that ultimately led to the creation of Virgin Records. Today Virgin Group holds more than 200 companies in more than 30 countries. Branson expanded his entrepreneurial efforts to include the travel company- the Voyager Group in 1980, the airline Virgin Atlantic in 1984, and a series of Virgin Megastores. He has expanded his businesses to include radio, music, train company, a luxury game preserve, a mobile phone company, and a space-tourism company,
Virgin Galactic. Branson had focused much of his attention on Virgin Galactic. He partnered with Scaled Composites to form The Spaceship Company, which is currently developing a suborbital spaceplane, and, in April 2013, the project made an impressive leap forward with the test launch of SpaceShipTwo. In April 2013, more than 500 people had bought their tickets for Virgin Galactic’s voyages.
Branson originally predicted that Virgin Galactic would be flying customers into space by 2007. In July 2005, Branson and Rutan announced a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites to get spaceflights going. The SpaceShip Company would manufacture SpaceShipTwo, a new generation of spacecraft that built on SpaceShip One’s technology, as well as a launching an aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo. SpaceShipTwo would carry six passengers and two pilots into space, Virgin promised, with enough space to allow for an out-of-seat zero gravity experience as well as plenty of large windows for the amazing views back to Earth. In December 2005, the US state of New Mexico officially offered Virgin Galactic a taxpayer-funded $225 million facility, SpacePort America, where the company could put its world headquarters and send flights into space.
A fatal explosion at Scaled Composites occurred in July 2007 during a routine test, delaying development of the rocket engine as the company searched for the cause. The next major flight milestone came in July 2008, when the company showed the first WhiteKnightTwo air launch vehicle “Eve” to customers and the media. Eve began test flights in December that year. While testing continues on SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic has been working to diversify the business. In July 2012, Branson announced the company would offer commercial satellite launches beginning in 2016. He also announced the development of Launcher One, an expendable liquid-fuelled rocket. But tragedy struck during the fourth powered flight, on Oct. 31, 2014, when the vehicle broke apart, killing copilot Michael Alsbury and injuring pilot Peter Siebold. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the accident was caused by SpaceShipTwo’s “feathering” re-entry system deploying too early, as a result of an error by Alsbury.
In February 2015, a media report concerning CEO George Whitesides indicated that the company plans to resume testing. Virgin is also building another spacecraft and is still planning to use Spaceport America in New Mexico for its flights.
Recently, Richard Branson has announced that his own Virgin Galactic will spin out a standalone company called Virgin Orbit that will launch small satellites into space. The initiative will be based on Virgin Galactic’s existing Launcher One programme, which hauls a small rocket to high altitudes beneath a Boeing 747-400 aircraft, then launches it from mid-air.
Virgin Orbit says it should be able to take up to 200 kilogrammes of satellite into sun-synchronous orbit, or over 400 kilogrammes into low earth orbit. It hopes to make its debut flight before the end of 2017.
IV. Robert Bigelow
Robert T. Bigelow owns the hotel chain Budget Suites of America and is the founder of Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow is behind the resurrection of a cancelled NASA programme. In the 1990s, NASA developed TransHab, or Transit Habitat, an inflatable living area to test in space with the goal of using such a container to transport humans to Mars and to replace the International Space Station’s aluminum habitation module. TransHab got only as far as ground testing before the US Congress cut the programme’s funding in 2000. Bigelow Aerospace picked up where TransHab left off, advancing research and development and eventually putting two inflatable test modules—Genesis I and II—into orbit in 2006 and 2007. Both modules, each the size of a van, remain in orbit today. Their batteries ran out years ago; eventually they will re-enter the atmosphere and burn up. But they have served their purpose. “Genesis I and II validated our basic architecture,” said Mike Gold, Bigelow’s Director of Washington, D.C. Operations & Business Growth, to the media. “From a technical perspective, these spacecraft showed that expandable systems could survive the rigours of launch, that our deployment process would work, and that we could successfully integrate windows into an expandable habitat structure.”
There is no planned periodic inspection from the outside during normal operations. However, during the deployment phase, when the BEAM is expanded from its packed state, they will take real time imagery through the ISS robotic Canadarm2 cameras so the operations team can monitor the progress of the expansion. BEAM is still manifested on the eighth SpaceX commercial resupply services mission. SpaceX has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first six cargo resupply missions to the station. Under the authority of the FAA, which licenses the launches, SpaceX is leading the mishap investigation. NASA will participate in this effort. NASA feels SpaceX understands the specifics, will learn what needs to be done and do it properly.
Paul Gardner Allen, an American business magnate, investor and philanthropist, is best known as the co-founder of Microsoft, alongside Bill Gates. Paul is the Chairman and Founder Vulcan Inc., he is the owner of Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, Part-owner of Seattle Sounders, founder of Allen Institute for Brain Science, and he is also the founder of Allen Institute for Cell Science and Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and finally the Co-founder of Microsoft. He has a net worth of $19.9 billion.
The Stratolaunch air-launch platform is designed to transport satellite payloads to orbit. In 2011, Paul G. Allen initiated the development of this new system to challenge the current model of orbital launch and to offer more flexible and cost effective access to space. Stratolaunch is an innovative approach to providing convenient and affordable space access for a wide range of missions and payloads.