For the first time ever, Richard Branson is planning a test flight for his Virgin Galactic space tourism enterprise that will take off on July 11. A little over a week from now, Jeff Bezos, his brother, and an anonymous auction winner who paid $28 million for their seats on Blue Origin, Bezos’ rival space business, will finish their own spaceflight.
The multi-billionaire race to the stars is back in full swing.
A month ago, Jeff Bezos stated that he will be the first billionaire private space firm founder (a group that includes Richard Branson and SpaceX’s Elon Musk) to fly in suborbital space on one of their own rockets, but now it appears that he will not be the first.
Charles Simonyi, a software millionaire, and Richard Garriott, a video game producer, were the first billionaires to travel to space in 2007.
The sudden announcement by Branson that he would fly nine days before Bezos on a Virgin Galactic rocket has been interpreted as an attempt to outdo the other space-bound tycoon. But Branson downplayed the competitive aspect of the space race, telling CNN that Bezos’ intentions had no effect on his announcement.
In his Friday interview, Branson said, “I think both of us will be wishing each other well, and it really doesn’t matter if one of us travels a few days before the other.” Bezos had praised Branson on Twitter when the Amazon CEO announced his aspirations for spaceflight in June, but Branson had also advised his fans to “watch this space” at the time.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are undoubtedly competitors in the suborbital space tourism sector, as Branson and Bezos are both vying for the same customers.
There are other similarities between these two guys, too. Bezos and Branson, two of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs and self-made billionaires, are both devoted to space exploration and have invested their riches in initiatives based on their personal interests.
Let’s take a look at how Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson match up against each other in the space race.
Billionaires who built their fortunes on their own
Retail was the starting point for both Branson and Bezos on their journeys to become multi-billionaires.
Early in his career, Branson ran a successful record-selling operation out of his student magazine, “Student,” which he started in the late 1960s when he dropped out of school and started his first business. A record store called Virgin Records started in London in 1971, which evolved into the chain Virgin Megastores, and later included a record label, as well as the Virgin Atlantic airline.
With EMI (now part of Universal Music Group), Branson sold his Virgin Records label in 1992 in exchange for $1 billion in cash. Currently, he serves as chairman of the Virgin Group, a conglomerate and holding company that holds stakes in a number of Virgin-branded enterprises, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, and Virgin Galactic. Virgin Group’s operations are estimated to generate $22 billion in annual revenue, according to Bloomberg.
Bezos, meanwhile, went from Princeton to Wall Street with D.E. Shaw’s hedge fund. The internet economy was predicted to grow rapidly in 1994, so Bezos quit his job and relocated across the country to start an online bookstore in a suburban Seattle garage. On July 16, 1995, Amazon.com debuted online.
Three decades later, Bezos has decided to step aside from his position as Amazon’s CEO after helping to grow the company from its humble beginnings into the ecommerce powerhouse it is today. As of today, Amazon has a market capitalization of over $1.7 trillion, making it one of the world’s most valuable corporations.
When it comes to wealth, Jeff Bezos comes out on top. According to Forbes, Jeff Bezos has a net worth of about $200 billion attributable to the value of his more than 10% interest in Amazon, making him the wealthiest person in the world.
It’s estimated that Branson’s fortune has grown to an estimated $7.4 billion over the previous few decades, making him the 380th richest person in the world as of Friday.
With the help of his fortune, Branson has attempted several world records, such as kitesurfing across the English Channel and flying across oceans in hot-air balloons, both of which failed miserably. Aside from the Necker Island resort in the Caribbean, which he purchased for $180,000 in the 1970s but is now valued at more than $100 million, he owns a slew of other high-end assets.
He also has a lake property in Medina, Wash., estimated to be worth $25 million; a $23 million DC mansion; a $80 million Manhattan penthouse; and a record-setting $165 million Beverly Hills residence. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also said to be planning a $500 million yacht project.
Infatuation with interstellar travel
Private space enterprises run by Bezos and Branson have received enormous sums of money from both men.
To fulfil his childhood ambition of travelling to the stars, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos developed Blue Origin in the year 2000. For the private space company, Bezos claimed in 2017 that he was selling about $1 billion in Amazon stock per year.
With a goal of transporting passengers to the edge of space by 2008, Branson created Virgin Galactic with the goal of launching space tourists like Justin Bieber and Angelina Jolie into orbit. After viewing Apollo 11’s moon landing in 1969 at the age of 19, Branson has long said that he would be one of the first passengers on Virgin Galactic’s space trips.
Aabar Investments, a sovereign wealth fund in Abu Dhabi, invested over $400 million in Virgin Galactic before Branson’s Virgin Group invested $100 million.
During a CNBC interview in 2017, Branson said, “I think space needs a lot of firms doing a lot of different things to benefit the Earth back here,” adding that he and Bezos both want to develop space technology to improve life on Earth.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has stated that he thinks space exploration as “vital for this planet [and] for the dynamism of future generations.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has even imagined a future where humans live in space pod colonies rather than on the planet itself in his high school graduation address.
Two companies, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, have ambitions to take travellers to the edge of space on short, suborbital flights, where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness. When it comes to space travel, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has previously flown passengers into true orbit and on lengthier journeys, including to the International Space Station, and the company plans to launch an all-civilian crew into orbit in September. In contrast,
When it comes to launching passengers into space, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have a few differences. Virgin Galactic employs a SpaceShipTwo suborbital spaceplane to take people into space, whereas Blue Origin uses a rocket. The SpaceShipTwo is carried aloft by the White Knight Two, a transport plane, before the spaceplane disembarks and is propelled into space by its rocket engine before gliding down to Earth.
In contrast to Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic has already completed three successful space flight tests, including one that included two pilots in May. Four people, including Branson, will be on board Virgin’s maiden voyage on July 11th.
Virgin Galactic also announced on June 25 that the FAA has approved its plans to begin flying paying customers in 2022 after Branson’s company acquired licencing clearance to fly passengers on future commercial space missions. Blue Origin has yet to specify a date for when it will begin carrying people on a regular basis.
Branson had stated that his first voyage to space will take place in early 2021, however that date was pushed back due to a computer breakdown on a prior test flight for Virgin Galactic in February. Even though the company’s May test flight went well, Branson told CNN that he was confident in his ability to fly on July 11’s launch.
CNBC Make It’s inquiries for comment from Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic were not immediately returned.
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