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Blazers owner Paul Allen falls behind Richard Branson in billionaire space race

Richard Branson

Virgin Group billionaire Richard Bransonjust got an early start over Paul Allen in the space launch business.

On Thursday, Branson’s LauncherOne company won a contract to launch up to 39 satellites for OneWeb Systems Inc., a British company planning a constellation of 700 internet satellites by 2019.

While most of those satellites are to be launched in groups by Europe’s Arianespace, the 39 could become a problem for Microsoft co-founder and entrepreneur Paul Allen and his Seattle-based Vulcan Aerospace.

That’s because Allen and Branson are building competing projects: large twin-hulled aircraft capable to carrying a rocket high into the atmosphere in a bid to radically lower the cost of lifting satellites into space.

While Allen’s Stratolaunch aircraft is substantially larger and carries larger rockets than Branson’s WhiteKnightTwo, that may not matter. The majority of the satellite market is dominated by swarms of small satellites that several competing communications companies want to launch.

The Puget Sound Business Journal has a comprehensive look at the space race.

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