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The race to successfully return rockets to Earth following launch is well and truly taking place. Three billionaires are behind the activity.
On the one hand there’s Elon Musk, flush with cash from his PayPal dividends and now helped by cashflow from his Tesla electric car business.
On the other there’s Jeff Bezos, the billionaire behind Amazon.com.
Musk’s Falcon-9 satellite launcher has had a few missteps although is relaxed and says that this year will see a 70 per cent success rate for his re-landing rocket.
Bezos, on January 22nd, saw his suborbital Blue Origin rocket reach a height of almost 102 kms and managed to return a dummy crew capsule to Earth (by parachute) and the propulsion rocket undertake a powered – and successful – vertical landing. Bezos and his team re-used the same rocket that had flown, and returned to Earth, back in November 2015.
At the moment the Musk rocket has the edge in that it can truly launch satellites. But Blue Origin is also planning a true orbital launch vehicle.
Meanwhile Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is also working with his team on their Virgin Galactic space plane project. Speaking in Davos on January 22nd Branson said that while he welcomed both the Musk and Bezos successes, said: “Our spaceship comes back and lands on wheels. Theirs don’t!”