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Three billionaire entrepreneurs – Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson – are each vying to usher in a new era of private commercial space travel.

Here is how their rival ventures compare in the race to open up space travel.

Tickets

Bezos, Branson, and Musk have been investing billions of dollars in their space startups, each promising to ferry paying customers on rides to space – and it will cost a pretty penny to be part of it.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic is reported to have more than 600 ticket reservations already, priced around $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.8 crores). It expects to begin a full commercial service in 2022 and eventually hopes to slash the ticket price to around $40,000 (roughly Rs. 30 lakhs).

Reuters reported in 2018 that Bezos’ Blue Origin was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 (roughly Rs. 1.4 crores) for the ride, based on an appraisal of Branson’s rival plans and other considerations, though its thinking may have changed. Blue has not divulged its long-term pricing plans.

An as-yet unidentified person secured one of the seats on Blue’s first suborbital mission, slated for July 20, with a $28 million auction bid.

Musk’s SpaceX has already taken a crew to the International Space Station, and the company has plans to send an all-civilian crew into orbit in September. Musk has also said SpaceX will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon with its forthcoming Starship rocket in 2023.

Design

Virgin Galactic’s reusable SpaceShipTwo system will see its VSS Unity spaceplane lifted to altitude by a large carrier aircraft called VMS Eve before separating.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket-and-capsule combo shoots into suborbital space before separating. The rocket section returns to the launchpad, with the pressurised capsule falls back to earth under parachutes. It features six observation windows – the largest ever used in space.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule sits atop a reusable Falcon rocket which it uses to reach space.

Crew and passengers

Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane can hold six passengers: two crew and four passengers.

Blue Origin’s craft can take six passengers and flies autonomously.

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is capable of carrying up to seven people.

Itinerary

Virgin Galactic boasts a flight time of around 90 minutes from take-off to landing, including several minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin’s capsule suborbital flight is around 10 minutes after separation. Again, those on board experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet before returning to Earth.

The SpaceX missions are expected to last three to four days from launch to splashdown.

Funding

Typical of Branson’s ventures, Virgin Galactic is publicly funded. Its shares peaked at almost $60 (roughly Rs. 4,480) following FAA approval in June 2021.

Blue Origin is privately owned, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos previously indicating he would sell around $1 billion (roughly Rs. 7,470 crores) in Amazon stock annually to fund the venture.

SpaceX is also privately owned and has raised billions of dollars in successive funding rounds. Key investors include Alphabet and Fidelity. Musk says fees charged for SpaceX’s charter flights will go toward missions to the moon and eventually Mars.

© Thomson Reuters 2021


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Government Eases Approval Process for FDI in Space Sector

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Government Eases Approval Process for FDI in Space Sector

India will allow 100% foreign direct investment in the manufacture of satellite systems without official approval and eased the rules for launch vehicles, a government statement said, aiming for a greater share of the global space market.

India’s space ambitions got a boost when it became the first country to land a spacecraft near the unexplored south pole of the moon in August – and the fourth to achieve a soft landing – just days after a similar Russian mission failed.

The government said in a statement late on Wednesday that foreign companies could invest in the manufacture of components and systems or sub-systems for satellites up to 100% without approval.

Foreign firms planning to build satellites in India would not require government approval up to 74% of the investment; for investment in launch vehicles, investment could go up to 49% without such approval, the statement said.

India has privatised space launches and is aiming for a five-fold increase in its share of the global launch market, which some expect to be worth $47.3 billion by 2032. India currently accounts for about 2% of the space economy.

The country hopes that liberalised rules for the space sector, long controlled by the government, will draw interest from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, among others.

The foreign direct investment policy reform is expected to boost employment and will allow companies to set up manufacturing facilities in India, the government said in the statement.

“This will give India access to the latest tech advances and much-needed funds, not only from the country but from international investors too,” said A.K. Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association.

Space-related India stocks such as Paras Defence and Space Technologies , MTAR Technologies, Taneja Aerospace and Aviation and Apollo Micro Systems climbed 2% to 5% on Thursday.

© Thomson Reuters 2024


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Neuralink Switches Location From Delaware to Nevada

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Neuralink Switches Location From Delaware to Nevada

Elon Musk‘s brain-chip implant company, Neuralink, changed its location of incorporation from Delaware to Nevada, according to the business portals of both states.

The development comes about a week after Musk said Tesla would hold a shareholder vote to transfer its state of incorporation to Texas from Delaware after a judge invalidated his $56 billion (roughly Rs. 4,64,880 crore) pay package.

However, switching the state of incorporation for Tesla could come with hurdles such as investor lawsuits, particularly if it was seen as a move to secure his pay package, legal experts said.

Musk said last week that Neuralink had implanted its first brain chip in a human patient, who was recovering well after the procedure.

Neuralink did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

In September 2023, the company received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients.

Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, it said but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete.

The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.

© Thomson Reuters 2024


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Elon Musk’s Neuralink Installs Brain Implant in Human for the First Time

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink Installs Brain Implant in Human for the First Time

Neuralink, the California-based neurotechnology company, has implanted a wireless brain chip in a human for the first time, revealed co-founder Elon Musk. The big development was revealed by Musk on January 29 via a series of posts on X (formerly known as Twitter). Neuralink has been working on creating implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Last year in May, the company received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct human trials. In September 2023, the neurotechnology firm began its human trial recruitment.

Announcing in a post, Musk said, “The first human received an implant from Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.” He also revealed separately that the first BCI product by the company had been named Telepathy. The brain chip enables the control of a computer or a smartphone just by thinking, claimed the co-founder. Interestingly, the company posted a video on YouTube in 2021 where a monkey could be seen controlling a game of ping-pong with his mind, after being implanted with the chip.

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” he added. The first users of the product will be those who have lost the use of their limbs.

While Neuralink received its FDA approval to conduct human trials last year, it rejected an application to pursue the same in 2022. At the time, the regulatory body had cited major safety concerns involving “the device’s lithium battery; the potential for the implant’s tiny wires to migrate to other areas of the brain; and questions over whether and how the device can be removed without damaging brain tissue,” as per a report by Reuters.

In a 2019 presentation, Musk explained that Neuralink BCIs were composed mostly of polyimide alongside a thin gold or platinum conductor. These were inserted into the brain through an automated process performed by a surgical robot. The chip contains a high number of ultra-thin nodules with wires called probes. The endings of these probes contain electrodes that are capable of locating and reading electrical signals in brain. These signals are then wirelessly transmitted to a device which can convert it into electronic commands to control a device.

In the past, the company has conducted extensive tests on animals and has claimed a high success rate. While performing a successful brain chip implant is a major milestone, the success of the product will be determined by its long-term performance and lack of side effects.


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