Not Many Billionaires Focused on Commercial Space

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Richard Branson and then-Gov. Bill Richardson. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Forbes has released its annual list of the world’s billionaires. There are a record 1,426 individuals with an aggregate net worth of $5.4 trillion in the world. The table below shows the tiny handful of this group — nine individuals — who are currently or have been previously involved in space projects.

RankNameNet Worth (Billions)AgeNationalityCompany/
Business
Space Project(s)

19

Jeff Bezos$25.249AmericanAmazon.com CEO, FounderBlue Origin

20

Larry Page$23.039AmericanGoogle CEO, Co-founderGoogle Lunar X Prize, Planetary Resources
21Sergey Brin$22.839AmericanGoogle Co-founderGoogle Lunar X Prize
53Paul Allen$15.060AmericanMicrosoft Co-founderStratolaunch, SpaceShipOne
SETI array
138Eric Schmidt$8.257AmericanGoogle ChairmanGoogle Lunar X Prize, Planetary Resources
272Richard Branson$4.662BritishVirgin Group CEO, FounderVirgin Galactic
527Elon Musk$2.741AmericanPayPal, Tesla Motors, Solar CitySpaceX
831Guy Laliberte$1.853CanadianCirque du SoleilSpace tourist
1031H. Ross Perot, Jr.$1.454Americancomputer services, real estatePlanetary Resources

The nine individuals are collectively worth $104.7 billion, with the bulk of that worth ($86 billion) coming from four individuals. Only one member of the group — Canadian Guy Laliberte — has been to space, flying to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2009. He is not known to have been involved in any space projects since returning to Earth.

Richard Branson and Elon Musk are the billionaires most prominently connected with space travel in the public’s mind. This is interesting because of the disparity in results between their two companies. SpaceX has launched its Falcon rockets 10 times, with the last seven successfully placing payloads into orbit. Earlier this week, one of the company’s Dragon freighters docked with the International Space Station.

Thus far, Branson’s connection with space has been as much a matter of hype as actual accomplishments. After more than eight years of development, the brash British billionaire hasn’t gotten SpaceShipTwo above 51,000 feet, and never under its own power. That situation is set to change later this year as the suborbital craft begins powered test flights.

After Musk, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has been the most successful billionaire space investor. He backed SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately-funded vehicle to reach space in 2004. He subsequently sold the rights to the technology to Branson and donated the the ship to the Smithsonian Institution, managing to turn a profit on his investment.

Allen is now backing an even more ambitious effort, Stratolaunch Systems. The company is building a massive carrier aircraft that will air-launch satellites into space. His primary partner in the venture is Scaled Composites, the same company that built SpaceShipOne.

Jeff Bezos is the most secretive billionaire space investor on the list. Despite becoming much more open over the past year, we still don’t know all that much about Blue Origin, which is developing crewed suborbital and orbital spacecraft. It would be interesting to know how much the project has cost, and how much Bezos has invested personally.

Google Co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Chairman Eric Schmidt have backed a private race to the moon through the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize. Twenty-three teams around the world are competing to land a rover on the moon and travel 500 meters by the end of 2015 to win the competition.

Page and Schmidt are backing a new venture, Planetary Resources, that aims to mine asteroids for profit. They are joined in that effort by H. Ross Perot, Jr., whose more famous father once ran for President.

Brin has put a $5 million down payment on a future space flight with Space Adventures, the company that has seven seven tourists to ISS. No flight has been scheduled yet.