The space race between two of the world?s biggest space companies is now heating up. With new rocket systems being developed by both SpaceX and Blue Origin, the space market will be at a loss on which is better and more cost efficient.
1. SPACE X (USA)
Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 as an instrument to develop launch vehicles and rockets to revolutionize the space technologies and ultimately enable humans to be able to live on the surface of Mars.
It has been one of the world?s fastest growing launch service providers, with over 100 space missions that amount to more than $12 billion on contract. These missions include missions of the US government as well as commercial satellite launches.
In May 2019, SpaceX launched around 60 satellites towards its satellite plan called Starlink Broadband Constellation and raised $1.022 billion from it. The value of SpaceX as of May 32, 2019 was at $33.3 billion. It raised another $300 million in investment from the Ontario Teachers? Pension Plan in June 2019, which is said to have over $190 billion in assets under management. Its current net market value is estimated to be around $30 billion.
SpaceX primarily has 4 main types of launch vehicles:
a. Falcon 9
Falcon 9 is a medium-to-heavy lift launch vehicle which is also known as the first and only rocket that has flown and soft landed a first stage after sending payloads to the low orbits of the Earth. It is also the first commercially designed and built rocket to launch a spacecraft to the ISS.
It is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants for both its stages. While the first stage has 9 SpaceX Merlin engines, the second stage employs a single vacuum-rated Merlin engine. The Falcon 9 has a payload capacity of 22,800 kilograms to the low Earth orbits and 8,300 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit of the Earth. Falcon 9 is also the first orbital class rocket which is capable of a re-flight. Falcon 9 has a standard payment plan of $62 million and can carry 4,020 kilograms of payload to the Martian surface.
b. Falcon Heavy
As the name suggests, Falcon Heavy is a heavy lift launch vehicle also known as the most powerful operational rocket that exists in the world as of now. It boasts of being able of lift more than twice the payload of the second operational vehicle in line, the Delta IV Heavy, that too at almost one-third of the stipulated cost.
It is a two-stage launch vehicle which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants for both the stages. The first stage is made up of three cores which are connected at the base and the top of the centre core?s liquid oxygen tank. The first stage has a total of 27 Merlin engines, while the second stage uses a single Merlin engine.
The Falcon heavy has a payload capacity of carry 63,800 kilograms to the low Earth orbits and 26,700 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit of the Earth. It has a standard payment plan of $90 million and can carry 16,800 kilograms of payload to the Martian surface.
Dragon is one of the first free-flying spacecrafts that has been developed and designed to deliver freight as well as people to orbiting destinations. It is also the only spacecraft that can return significant amounts of cargo back to the Earth. This spacecraft can carry up to 7 passengers to and from the orbit of the Earth, and even beyond that. The launch payload capacity of SpaceX Dragon is 6,000 kilograms while the return payload capacity is 3,000 kilograms. It has had 16 space missions till now, 15 out of which have been successful.
d. BFR, Big Falcon Rocket
Based on the achievements and successes of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, SpaceX has been developing a next generation fullyreusable rocket and launch vehicle. If successful, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built that could carry humans to Mars and even other planets of the
solar system. With the second stage renamed as Starship, and the first as Super Heavy, this vehicle includes both a spacecraft as well as a launch vehicle.
Its payload capacity to the low Earth orbit is said to be at least 100,000 kilograms which therefore makes it a super heavy lift launch vehicle. It is also slated to have its first orbital flight sometime in 2020. The design of the launch vehicle is said to be dependent on the Raptor rocket engine, which is basically a cryogenic methalox- fuelled engine that will be used for BFR, which will have two stages.
SpaceX gets supply contracts from NASA for the International Space Station due to its developed technology. It is also certified for launches and space missions of the US military of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle class payloads. SpaceX accounted for 30 missions
amounting to $12 billion under contract in 2018 alone. In February 2019, SpaceX secured a contract worth $297 million from the US Air Force to launch three national security missions, namely, the AFSPC-44, NROL-87, and NROL-85, all of which are slated to launch in 2021.
2. BLUE ORIGIN (USA)
Founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin had the main aim of creating a future where humans could live and work in space, while incurring low costs and increasing reliability.
It has and still is developing technologies focusing majorly on rocket-powered vertical take-off as well as vertical landing vehicles to access the suborbital and orbital space. Blue Origin has been investing millions of dollars towards the development of space technology, an amount that is not available for public information. It has also been collaborating with NASA for several small contracts and receiving funding worth at least $40 million by the contracts. Additionally, Jeff Bezos is also selling its Amazon stocks worth $1 billion every year for the private funding of the company.
Blue Origin has the following types of launch vehicles:
a. New Shepard
This is a reusable rocket system designed for suborbital flights in addition to being a fully reusable space vehicle that can
do vertical take-offs and landings. To date, it has had 11 launches, all of which have been successful, in addition to 9 landings.
This vehicle is a fully reusable rocket system which can carry payloads to the sub orbits of the Earth and is controlled by on-board computers, instead of ground control or human pilots.
It has two main parts, the pressurized crew capsule and a rocket booster, also known as a propulsion module. It works on a single BE-3 engine and is propelled by liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen.
b. New Glenn
This is a single configuration heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of carrying payloads not only to the Earth?s orbit, but also beyond it. It has a reusable first stage which is built for 25 missions, along with a high-performance configuration. It has a fully reusable first stage with the BE-4 engine, that is propelled by liquid oxygen or liquefied natural gas, making it one of the most powerful engines of the world.
New Glenn is capable of carrying payloads weighing 13,000 kilograms to the geostationary transfer orbit and a payload of 45,000 kilograms to the low orbits of the Earth.
c. Blue Moon
This is a rocket Lander under development by Blue Origin, slated to take its first flight in 2024. It is said to have the BE-7 engine that will power the spacecraft. It uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and carry payloads and cargo weighing over 3.6 metric tons on the surface of the moon.
Blue Origin collaborates with NASA for several developmental missions, earning millions of dollars in return. in addition, it has also partnered with Boeing for the Phase 1 development of the DARPA XS-1 Space plane Program. Moreover, the BE-4 engine of Blue Origin was
selected by the United Launch Alliance to provide first stage rocket engines for its next generation Vulcan rocket, in September 2018. This engine will replace the Russian built RD-180 engine that powers the Atlas 5 as of now.
Blue Origin?s New Glenn will be carrying out heavy orbital launches, with a reusable booster that will help it to save additional costs. It is a part of Bezo?s mission to create a new economy of space by enabling humans to not only live, but also work there. This comes in contrast with SpaceX owner Elon Musk?s visions, who is now developing the BFR, or the Starship, to transport humans to Mars and explore space even further. With the latest and some of the most advanced technologies being used in the development of both New Glenn and the BFR, it is important to compare the two vehicles in order to understand who is winning the said space race.
While the New Glenn has a seven-meter fairing, it also offers a double usable volume as compared to any launch vehicle currently in the market. This means that it can carry increased payloads to space. BFR, on the other hand, cam carry a much
lesser amount of payload as compared to its rival. When it comes to engines, New Glenn uses what is referred to as the world?s most powerful liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas engine, the BE-4, while the BFR has a Raptor engine powered by methane and liquid oxygen. This places the engine to quite a low position in comparison to the BE-4.
Blue Origin has, to date, invested almost $2.5 billion in the development of its next generation spaceship. SpaceX, on the other hand, has speculated that the BFR will amount to at least $5 billion in development, but could eventually cost way less to create.
It is therefore, quite a difficult task to decide which company is winning the race. When taking technology into consideration, both SpaceX and Blue Origin are neck and neck, with a few extra points at some point or the other. When it comes to considering the production costs, Blue Origin definitely takes the lead with low and cost-efficient development of its projects and vehicles.
Then again, it will cause the company incur losses on its own since all investment goes from Bezo?s pockets, whereas SpaceX uses funding from the government as well as NASA for its projects. Regardless, if the BFR is successful, it could potentially change the way we look at space. It would give SpaceX the power to dominate not just its rival, but also almost every other space company in the world, by possibly making human life multiplanetary.
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