Space Pimps: Which Tech Billionaires Are Winning The Space Race?

Archimedes wasn’t talking about a pile of money when he said, “Give me a place to stand, and I shall move the earth,” but that’s exactly what today’s tech titans are standing on to launch their space companies. These billionaires ain’t your grandaddy’s robber barons whose fortunes were built on the backs of steelworkers; they’re forward-thinking innovators who see the value of going off-planet.

In other words, space pimps.

Richard Branson (Virgin Group) – Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson derives his $5billion fortune from the Virgin Group, a multinational venture capital conglomerate he founded that owns more than 400 companies, including Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic is making spacecraft to take rich people to space. While viable space tourism at scale is still a ways off, Branson founded Virgin Galactic back in 2004 and has been working for over a decade to make his dream a reality.

Between 2001 and 2009, seven people paid between $20 and $40 million to go to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft — until those prices come down two orders of magnitude, anyone not on the Forbes list will be stuck on the ground, just like Lance Bass.

Larry Page (Google) – Planetary Resources

One half of the Google brain trust, Larry Page is a 44-year-old worth $48 billion dollars. It was Page who invented PageRank, the search ranking algorithm upon which Google is built.

Planetary Resources’ long-term goal is to develop a robotic asteroid mining industry. That dream is further away than the quasi-affordable space tourism that Richard Branson envisions with Virgin Galactic, but the value of natural resources on asteroids is immense. There are literally giant rocks of platinum hurtling through space; but that won’t do anyone any good until the technology exists to bring it back to earth.

The company raised $21million in Series A funding in 2016; Larry Page was part of the group that contributed that funding. Planetary Resources also got a €25 million investment from Luxembourg in 2016 — the same year the tiny European tax haven passed legislation granting private operators rights to minerals mined in space.

Since the asteroid mining industry doesn’t exist yet, the laws governing mineral rights are nebulous. You think Uncle Sam is letting anyone keep all their space gold? Absolutely not. Luxembourg was savvy to pass pre-emptive legislation in this regard; they’ve set themselves to be one of the biggest tax havens in the galaxy, not just on earth.

Jeff Bezos (Amazon) – Blue Origin

Recently crowned the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos is the mastermind behind Amazon. He’s worth about $90billion on a good day, and his interest in space goes back almost two decades. Way back in 2000, Bezos, without telling anybody, founded Blue Origin, a human spaceflight startup company.

Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard space vehicle into space back in 2015, and they’re is currently building six identical spacecraft to support all facets of testing and operations.

The company only became public knowledge in 2006 when it purchased a large swath of land in west Texas to build a launch site and test facility. The king of the poker face, Bezos moves in silence. He recently revealed that he’s been quietly selling off Amazon stock to the tune of $1-billion-a-year to finance his space company.

Ricardo Salinas (Groupo Elektra) – OneWeb

Ricardo Salinas isn’t a household name outside of Mexico, and his company, Groupo Elektra, isn’t intrinsically tech-centric, but the fourth-richest man in Mexico makes our list of space pimps nonetheless. Worth just shy of $10 billion, Salinas was part of a $500 million Series A round of funding in 2015 for OneWeb, a company that wants to operate a network of satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) in order to provide global broadband internet service to individuals as soon as 2019.

Early in 2017, OneWeb announced that it had already sold most of the capacity on its original network of 648 satellites, and filed plans with the U.S. government to quadruple the size of its network by adding an additional 2,000 satellites.

It’s worth noting that a host of companies have stake in OneWeb, including Google and Qualcomm (both part of the $500M Series A round that Salinas invested in) and Japanese telecom giant SoftBank Group Corp, which spent $1 billion for a 40% stake in the company in 2016.

Elon Musk (Tesla) – SpaceX

Elon Musk is the world’s #1 space pimp. Originally part of the PayPal Mafia, Musk has flipped the $165 million he made from eBay’s $1.2 billion acquisition of the payment processing service in 2002 into a fortune worth $20 billion today.

After cashing out in 2002, Musk immediately invested $100 million of his PayPal money into Space Explorations, a company he founded to advance the state of rocket technology.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for Musk, though, who was, by his own admission, broke in 2010.

He’d invested all his money into Tesla and SpaceX and a costly divorce left him in the hole. Rather than sell any of his stock, Musk doubled down on himself, borrowing money from his rich friends to stay afloat.

Seven years later, he’s doing OK for himself. His three main futuristic companies; Tesla, SolarCity, and SpaceX, are all well integrated into the American lexicon.

SpaceX has been disruptive enough to upset the monopoly that United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed — held on U.S. military launches for over a decade.

In 2008, SpaceX became the first privately-funded company to put a satellite into orbit using a liquid-fueled rocket; the Falcon 1. And in 2012, Space X became the first private company to launch and and berth (dock) a vehicle with the International Space Station.

Musk (whose private trust holds 54%of SpaceX stock) has his sights set on Mars, hoping put a man on Mars by 2025.