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Space billionaires trade banter and blastoffs

Image: Richard Branson
Richard Branson is in a friendly rivalry with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture may have done another flight test, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making waves with its rocket progress – but don’t forget about Richard Branson.

“Our spaceship comes back and lands on wheels. Theirs don’t,” the billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic said during a CNBC interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “There’ll be banter like this which will take place, and that’s good. People will have a choice of which spaceships they want to use to go to space.”

Blue Origin is developing spaceships for suborbital as well as orbital trips. In November, Blue Origin’s uncrewed New Shepard test vehicle went into space for the first time and made a successful vertical landing. If all goes well, the company could be flying passengers in two years.

Today there was a torrent of tweets about a possible Blue Origin flight test. First, the Federal Aviation Administration alerted aviators to stay away from the airspace over the company’s test range in West Texas. Then, around midday today, the restrictions were lifted. One Twitter user, Patrick Brown, went so far as to post a picture of what appears to be a rocket trail leading up from the company’s test range in West Texas.

Blue Origin kept mum. “Unfortunately, Blue Origin doesn’t have anything to contribute at this time,” the company said in a statement emailed to GeekWire.

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Twitter truce? Jeff Bezos gives props to SpaceX

Image: SpaceX Falcon landing
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first-stage booster descends toward a landing on a ship in the Pacific Ocean after the Jason 3 launch. SpaceX says the booster tipped over due to a landing-leg failure. (Credit: SpaceX)

Rocket launches can sometimes turn into flame wars, as shown by last year’s Twitter tug of war between space-minded billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

The rivalry behind Bezos’ Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX has been going on for years, flaring up over issues ranging from control of Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the patent rights for rocket landings at sea. In both those cases, SpaceX prevailed at Blue Origin’s expense.

That rivalry crossed over into the Twittersphere in November, when the Amazon founder used his first tweet to tout the landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft after its first test flight to an outer-space altitude.

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Billionaire space club pits Musk vs. Bezos et al.

Image: Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's New Shepard craft
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (in hat and sunglasses) pops open a bottle of champagne after Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket landing in November. (Credit: Blue Origin)

When Jeff Bezos welcomed SpaceX to the rocket landing “club” last week, it set off a round of twittering over whether Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX were really in the same league. What kind of club was Bezos talking about?

The club that Bezos had in mind was precisely defined: It consists of ventures that can launch a rocket booster from the ground into space, and then bring that booster back intact for a vertical landing.

Blue Origin was the first to become a member, during a November test flight of its suborbital New Shepard spaceship in Texas. SpaceX followed in December, with the successful landing of its Falcon 9’s first-stage booster after the launch of 11 Orbcomm telecommunication satellites.

Lots of folks have pointed out how much more difficult it is to bring back a booster after an orbital launch, as opposed to New Shepard’s up-and-down suborbital trip. The Falcon 9 stage is more than 10 times as powerful and rose twice as high as New Shepard. The implications are greater, as well: Musk says total rocket reusability could lower the cost of delivering satellites and other payloads to orbit by a factor of 100, and eventually open the way for building a city on Mars.

Based on Bezos’ narrow definition of the club, Blue Origin may have been the first member, but this month SpaceX took the lead.

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Elon Musk explains why he favors a carbon tax

Image: Elon Musk
Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, takes questions at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in San Francisco. (Credit: AGU)

Policymakers have been debating – and dismissing – the idea of putting a tax on carbon emissions for more than a decade, but the way billionaire innovator Elon Musk sees it, the concept is a no-brainer.

The 44-year-old CEO of the SpaceX rocket venture and the Tesla electric car company laid out his rationale today in San Francisco during a webcast chat at theAmerican Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. He said not paying a carbon tax is like not paying for garbage collection.

Say what?

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120 teams will vie in Hyperloop pod contest

Image: Hyperloop cutaway
A cutaway illustrates the Hyperloop concept. (Credit: Patrick Grimmel via SpaceX)

More than 120 student engineering teams, including a group from the University of Washington, have been chosen for a Hyperloop pod design competition backed by billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla Motors.

Experts at SpaceX selected the teams from hundreds of entries to take part in a Design Weekend, scheduled for Jan. 29-30 at Texas A&M University. More than 1,000 students representing over 100 universities and three high schools will present their concepts to panels of judges at the event, the contest’s organizers said today in a news release. Check out the full list of registered teams.

The judges, representing SpaceX and Tesla as well as universities around the country, will decide which teams get a chance to build and test their design prototypes in the next round of the competition. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will discuss the future of transportation with the teams at a private event. The design submissions will be put on public display on Jan 30 at Texas A&M’s Hall of Champions in advance of the judges’ decision.

The competition’s final round will take place next summer at a test track that’s being built by SpaceX next to its headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.

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Amazon’s Jeff Bezos tweets for the first time

The flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship on an uncrewed trip to space and back may be history-making, but here’s a first that’s almost as big for social media: Jeff Bezos’ maiden tweet.

One of Bezos’ biggest rivals in the space game is SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, who weighed in with an artful series of tweets that started out praising Blue Origin’s test flight but ended up downplaying it.

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Elon Musk gets in the Thanksgiving spirit on TV

You wouldn’t think Elon Musk was a warm and fuzzy guy, based on this year’s biography of the hard-driving CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, but on this week’s episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” we learn that he loves to help the homeless.

The big reveal comes when engineer and one-time spaceflier Howard Wolowitz (played by Simon Helberg) reluctantly joins his wife as well as his pal Raj and his girlfriend to help with Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter. Howard gets stuck washing the dishes, but loses control of his sink sprayer when he sees Musk walk in with a load of dirty plates.

“What are you doing here?!” Howard asks.

“I’m washing dishes … I was on the turkey line, but I got demoted for being too generous with the gravy,” Musk replies.

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