Billionaire businessmen Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are in a battle for commercial dominance over the final frontier: space.
Musk’s company SpaceX plans to send a pair of humans to orbit the moon by 2018, while Bezos’ Blue Origin intends to deliver satellites, science experiments and eventually astronauts to the moon in the 2020s.
The two billionaires are both developing new rockets to go to the moon. Blue Origin unveiled animation of its new rocket design earlier this month.
SpaceX plans to have its 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy rocket fly around the moon as earlier as next year. It’s shorter than Bezos’ rocket but capable of lifting 60 tons into orbit.
Blue Origin’s two-stage New Glenn rocket is 270 feet tall, 23 feet in diameter and capable of lifting 50 tons into orbit. Both rockets are much larger than NASA’s 212-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket, the first version of which should be capable of lifting 70 tons to orbit.
New Glenn’s engines will burn liquefied natural gas and oxygen, and will have more than 150 percent of the thrust of the Saturn V rockets that carried humans to the moon in the 1960s. New Glenn is expected to make its initial test launch prior to 2020.
SpaceX is modifying its current Dragon capsules to carry astronauts into orbit. The capsule has already successfully flown uncrewed resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. The company will send the first crewed trip to the ISS in mid-2018, according to Musk. Blue Origin plans to launch its first crewed test flight this year and start commercial crewed missions to suborbital space in 2018.
Despite SpaceX’s more short-term timeline in the moon race, Blue Origin beat Musk’s company in the race to successfully land the first reusable rocket after officially going to space in November 2015. The race was marked by both billionaires aggressively tweeting at one another to explain why their rocket design was better.
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