Recently, the world has been experiencing some strange Deja vu from watching a second space race take place in front of its eyes. But this time, it’s not about the cold war. No, instead of a competition of ideologies and economic systems between nations. This time the space race is a lot prettier.
Elon Musk vs. Jeff Bezos
Two massive billionaires engaging in what can only be described as an ego-stroking contest, at times making some genuinely amazing breakthroughs in the field of space aviation. But mostly bickering and feuding both online and in courtrooms. These two billionaires are SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos. The two richest men on earth by net worth. And while these two have been in a race to get people to the edge of space for close to 15 years now, how did this rivalry come into existence, and what exactly happened? And where does NASA fit into all of this?
The first meeting between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk
Jeff Bezos is currently the second richest person in the world and runs Amazon and aerospace company Blue Origin, which has the expressed goal of sending people to the moon. Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX among many other companies and is the world’s richest man with over $300 Billion net worth. Over the years, the rivalry between these two has resulted in bitter Twitter spats and legal battles. To understand the rivalry, we have to go back to 2004, when musk and Bezos met for a dinner. According to author Christian Davenport in his book, “The Space Barons.”, Musk described their meeting.
Musk said that Bezos was “barking up the wrong tree” about rockets and that SpaceX had already tried several of the ideas Bezos was proposing, calling them “dumb.”
“I actually did my best to give good advice, which he largely ignored,” Musk said.
Their space companies were just start-ups at the time. Bezos had started his company in 2000 as he was flush with cash from Amazon. Bezos is so keen that he actually stepped down as CEO of amazon in 2020 to focus on Blue Origin. Musk started SpaceX in 2002 with the money he made from selling his website, X.com, to PayPal, which was in turn eventually sold to eBay.
SpaceX vs. Blue Origin, the cold war
The real spat began in 2013 when SpaceX secured a long-term lease of Launchpad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where the Apollo moon missions took off from. Blue Origin, which wasn’t very happy about this, filed a formal protest with NASA to prevent SpaceX from using it exclusively, arguing that it should be turned into a commercial spaceport available to all launch companies. In response, Musk said that his company would accommodate Blue Origin should their vehicle be launch-ready. But he also made a snarky comment about Blue Origin’s slow progress, writing “Frankly, I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct”
The real war started in 2014
The next year, it was SpaceX that had a problem with Blue Origin. In 2014, the U.S. patent and trademark office granted Blue Origin a patent for landing rocket boosters on drone ships. This would have meant that SpaceX would have to pay to use the technology. SpaceX argued that the concept of drone ships had been around for decades. A judge sided with Musk’s firm, forcing Blue Origin to withdraw most of its patent claims. Since then, SpaceX has successfully landed 66 of its Falcon 9 boosters on drone ships. The first time was in April 2016 on the ship “Of course I still love you”.
These are just two examples of the many, many spats that these two companies have had over the years. Others include Tesla accusing Blue Origin of poaching all their best employees, and that time When SpaceX beat out Blue Origin to win a coveted contract with NASA to land the next humans on the moon using a modified Starship, Musk joked Bezos ‘can’t get it up…to orbit! And speaking of sexual innuendos: Musk also poked fun at the name of Blue Origin’s lunar lander,
Blue Moon, tweeting: “Putting the word ‘Blue’ on a ball is questionable branding”. Blue Origin is suing NASA for awarding SpaceX that contract worth $2.9 billion.
The battle of satellite internet service
Bezos’ other company Amazon also has a problem with SpaceX’s satellite internet service, Starlink. Over a thousand Starlink satellites have already been launched, serving 90,000 customers worldwide according to SpaceX. The company aims to launch many thousands more. However, Amazon has urged the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, to reject SpaceX’s updated plans that call for two different satellite configurations, arguing SpaceX should have made these changes “…before filing its application – not after.”
Why does Amazon care? Because it plans to launch its own satellite internet service dubbed Project Kuiper – which led Musk to call Bezos a “copycat”. There’s no word on when Amazon’s service will start operating.
SpaceX responded to Amazon’s protest by calling it “…a continuation of efforts by the Amazon family of companies to hinder competitors to compensate for Amazon’s failure to make progress of its own” and also noted that Amazon has “lodged objections to SpaceX on average about every 16 days this year.” Musk then tweeted: “Filing legal actions against SpaceX is *actually* (Bezos’) full-time job.”
But, is this for real
All of this may make it seem like the relationship between the two is only getting worse, and while that may be true, it’s not all so bad. You see, back in December of 2020, SpaceX conducted its first test flight of the starship, a spaceship that’s supposed to take humanity to Mars by 2026, and it was a huge success. Even Bezos acknowledged that success, posting on Instagram: “Anybody who knows how hard this stuff is impressed by today’s Starship test. Big congrats to the whole @SpaceX team. I’m confident they’ll be back at it soon.”
In the end, despite the fierce competition and rivalry between the two companies, it is undeniable that they have thus far offered great contributions to furthering humanity’s efforts to conquer the last great frontier, space. Maybe competition is exactly what’s going to drive humanity further than it has ever gone, just like it did back in the 1960s. So we can fulfill our potential as a species and become more advanced and prosperous than we could have ever dreamed.