The commercial space tourism industry recently took a hit after Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed during a test flight this past Friday. The accident has left the company without an aircraft, and questions are currently being raised about the future of space travel in general: How long must customers wait before they can blast off into the sky?
Back in 2004, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, answered three years. But it’s now 2014, nearly seven after his initial prediction, and we haven’t been able to experience weightlessness yet. In light of the recent events, another questions also surfaces: Is space tourism even worth the risk?
For some of the richest tycoons in the industry, the unmistakable answer is yes. Just ask Branson. The private spaceflight industry could potentially be worth trillions of dollars. A single seat on the Virgin Galactic, for example, is worth $250,000 – a pretty hefty price tag for a short vacation. Yet, over 800 people have signed up for the journey, including some Hollywood big shots, including Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie and Justin Bieber – just to name a few.
But who are these tycoons that are paving the road to space? Here are five of the biggest investors in the business:
1. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson is better known as the founder of Virgin Group, but he entered the aerospace industry back in 2004 in order to make space affordable and accessible to eager adventurers. His Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflight company (within Virgin Group) hopes to provide suborbital spaceflights to space tourists, suborbital launches for satellites, and suborbital launches for space missions.
2. Elon Musk, SpaceX
SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk. Like the Virgin Galactic, the goal of SpaceX is to reduce the cost space transportation, although Musk is also focused on the possibility of colonizing Mars sometime in the future.
3. Paul Allen and Burt Rutan, Stratolaunch
After backing up Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne project, the former Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, joined forces with Scaled Composites founder, Burt Rutan, to start Stratolaunch in 2011. The company is currently working on an aircraft, which boasts the widest wingspan of any plane in history. If all goes according to plane, Stratolaunch hopes to conduct its first test flight in 2016 and it’s first launch in 2018.
4. Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin
Blue Origin was founded by Amazon.com founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. The aerospace company is currently implementing a step-by-step approach to achieve orbital flight from suborbital flight. As such, it’s currently moving at a slower pace than Virgin Galactic, while flight tests continue to be conducted.
5. Robert Bigelow, Bigelow Aerospace
Robert Bigelow started his aerospace company in 1998 with funds he gained through his ownership of Budget Suites of America hotel chain. Because he is more focused on space habitation, his company currently makes modules that are capable of floating in orbit. However, Bigelow is also interested in commercial lunar missions.