It looks like Richard Branson has won the billionaire space tourism race.
Although Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his team at Blue Origin have generated a lot of press around their tourist flight later this month, Branson quietly swooped in out of nowhere days ago and beat the richest man in history to space.
The successful launch of Branson’s flight has been years in the making, and it points to the importance of prioritizing efficiency over flash and expediency in the commercial space industry.
At the moment, most media attention goes to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin. Musk is known for big claims and demonstrations, while Bezos’ announced launch indicates he too may switch to flashiness now that he’s focusing on space full time.
Yet for all their glitz and glamor, it is Branson who’s quietly pulled out the win. From VOX Space Company’s recently earning a $35 million contract from the U.S. Space Force to Virgin Orbit’s successful demo launch for NASA, his portfolio of space companies has been gaining steam over the last year.
Perhaps the two other brash billionaires can learn a thing or two about meeting deadlines and being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars they receive from their new equal.
Blue Origin and SpaceX have tens of billions of dollars available because they are owned by two of the wealthiest men in the world. Both have partnerships with NASA, the Department of Defense, and even other aerospace contractors.
Yet they have squandered many of those resources and faced extended delays on deliveries, in part because they seem to often lose focus and sight of quality control when in pursuit of the next big media headline of the month.
Despite being over 20 years old, Blue Origin has never put a rocket into orbit. Neither its New Glenn rocket nor the BE-4 engines that power it has come close to meeting their delivery dates, leaving NASA and the Department of Defense idling by.
Questions need to be asked. Since money is clearly not the problem, what could be driving the delays? Why is it that the world’s richest man seemingly continues to prioritize fulfilling his childhood dream of reaching space over critical government projects?
Overpromising and underdelivering to the government in the chase for elevated media attention isn't just a Bezos problem. Elon Musk’s SpaceX's has also been marred by delays and explosions.
Despite making some progress with their Falcon rockets, past failures have caused regulators like former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine to question whether the company adequately prioritizes taxpayer-funded contracts. This criticism seems more than fair for a company known for cutting corners and a CEO who consistently misses deadlines.
In sharp contrast to these two billionaires, Branson split his tourist operations from his government and security providers. Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbital, and VOX Space all serve different clientele and are judged separately from one another.
This model has proven effective for Branson, whose companies have made steady progress at developing their technology while keeping their respective clients happy.
Has Branson still experienced failures? Sure, but the careful concern he has demonstrated in completing his taxpayer-funded work in timely, thoughtful fashion has separated him from the pack.
His objective is not generating media headlines; it is putting his head down and getting the job done.
As commercial aerospace enters a potential boom decade, these companies must keep in mind that the government won't put up with extended delays forever.
We can only hope that these big firms right the ship soon, or the government may begin looking elsewhere for services. That would be devastating to the free marketplace and the fate of the private space industry.
Steve Gruber is a conservative talk show host with 25 affiliates in Michigan. Read Steve Gruber's Reports — More Here.
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