SpaceX Landing: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos Round 1
A few weeks ago, I wrote about a little spat between SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and his billionaire frenemy Jeff Bezos. Aside from running Amazon.com, Inc., Bezos owns a space exploration company called Blue Origin. Both entrepreneurs claimed to have pioneered reusable rockets, but Elon Musk ended the debate yesterday night.
In case you’ve been camping under a rock for the last few years, let me catch you up on SpaceX, or more formally Space Exploration Technologies Corp. SpaceX is one of the most remarkable companies on the planet, having been founded with the express purpose of colonizing Mars.
That’s right, Elon Musk wants to make us a “multi-planetary species” as a way of ensuring humanity’s survival. Personally, I don’t know what he’s so worried about; it’s not like we’re all going to kill each other or anything. People are warm and cuddly…
In any case, Elon Musk first set about building his own rocket. Soon after, SpaceX secured huge NASA contracts to ship supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). They’ve successfully accomplished half a dozen launches and are scheduled for manned missions in 2016. The company’s manifest is completely overbooked.
But going to space is expensive. Both Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk realized that most of the expense is packaged in the cost of the rocket, meaning that reusable rockets would drastically improve the economics of space travel.
The Year of Reusable Rockets
Last month, Blue Origin managed to launch its “New Shepard” rocket to the edge of space and land it back on Earth. It was really, really impressive to watch, especially with the professionally made video Bezos developed to chronicle the achievement.
On Twitter, he called his rocket the “rarest of beasts,” claiming it was the first of its kind. Elon Musk wasn’t too happy about that. He reminded Bezos that SpaceX had the “Falcon 9,” a two-stage rocket whose first section has a few test landings under its belt.
It’s hard to tell who was right without delving into a bunch of technical details, so this past week, Elon Musk made it clear that SpaceX is a cut above its rivals.
The latest edition of the Falcon 9 was going to deliver 11 satellites into orbit and land back on Earth. Since the last launch had gone horribly wrong, this was a tense moment for the SpaceX team.
But they pulled it off. Using a camera with lengthened exposure, this spectacular shot shows the Falcon 9’s takeoff and landing from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
There and back again pic.twitter.com/Ll7wg2hL1G
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
SpaceX Landing: Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, Round 2
To be clear, there isn’t much competition between the two landings. The Falcon 9’s length more than doubles the New Shepard rocket because it is designed to travel further from the planet, while also carrying a payload. The New Shepard is designed for space tourism, rather than cargo delivery, hence the stouter frame. It doesn’t need to get very high, either. However, offering brief sojourns to low orbit space can give customers a chance to see the curvature of the Earth, which is awesome. When the Falcon 9 touched safely back on Earth, Jeff Bezos couldn’t help but throw a little jab at Elon Musk. Once again, the catfight took place on Twitter.
“Welcome to the club!” Really, Jeff? Elon Musk just made space travel 100 times less expensive, and you think that’s a good time to be snarky? Yeesh.