Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic: the comparison of two major private space competitors

13th Apr 2022
Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic: the comparison of two major private space competitors

2021 became a landmark year for the global space industry, and the Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic competition played a major part in that. For the first time, aerospace companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, sent ordinary people into space. This ushered in the era of space tourism and brought space one step closer for “ordinary” people – as long as you have a few hundred thousand dollars to spare. We will briefly discuss the creation and development history of two private space pioneer companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, analyse the differences between their technologies, and try to see which company is superior. So let’s find out who is ahead in the space tourism race: Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic?

The History of Blue Origin

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by American billionaire Jeff Bezos. By that time, the Princeton University graduate with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science had nine years of experience on Wall Street and the success of creating the Amazon online store. The latter brought Bezos a billion-dollar fortune and finally made it possible to fulfil a childhood dream of building a rocket for ordinary people to fly into space. Jeff Bezos still remembers watching the Apollo 11 Moon landings on black-and-white TV at the age of five. It was this event that gave impulse to a long-term passion.

At first, Blue Origin was like a hobby club. Bezos has gathered brilliant scientists obsessed with the idea of ​​creating an effective replacement for chemical rocket propulsion. But every option they proposed proved impossible due to cost, high risk, or technical complexity. So in 2003, Bezos began hiring applied specialists – aerospace engineers, technicians – which is when things finally got off the ground for Blue Origin.

After long calculations, Bezos settled on the option of a vertical-launch suborbital rocket, which had to be reusable. That is how Blue Origin came up with its main principle: “Rockets have legs. Rockets must land! God wants to see such rockets!”

From 2005 to 2011, Blue Origin built and tested three aircraft: Charon, Goddard and New Shepard. The first two were successfully tested in 2005-2007 for launch systems at altitudes up to 100m. But the first New Shepard flight on 24th August 2011, failed. The vehicle reached Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet, but the thrust system had to be turned off due to an unstable trajectory, and the rocket collapsed on impact.

Since then, Blue Origin has been developing and testing the New Shepard as well as its own BE engines through 2021, with a total of 14 test runs. The booster received a passenger capsule, which separated at an altitude of 50 km and flew along a given trajectory, after which it landed on supports using a parachute system. The Blue Origin NS-14 dummy mission, which took place in January 2021, proved that the spacecraft is fully prepared for the first controlled suborbital flight with passengers on board.

The history of Virgin Galactic

Richard Branson founded his aerospace company Virgin Galactic in 2004 – 4 years after Bezos’ Blue Origin and two years after Elon Musk’s SpaceX. But, unlike his competitors, the Brit already had extensive business experience. His brainchild, the Virgin Group, existed since 1970 and consisted of more than a dozen companies in various fields – from recording studios to air transport. Virgin Atlantic was then serving over four million passengers a year to over 30 long-haul destinations and had not had a single plane crash in 18 years.

However, Branson wanted more. So when he got the opportunity to buy a license to develop SpaceShip from Paul Allen’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures, he did it without hesitation. This is how Virgin Galactic, offering suborbital tourist flights, was created.

The ambitious Branson promised that the first space travel would begin as early as 2009 and even announced how much a Virgin Galactic flight ticket cost. Despite the impressive Virgin Galactic price tag, tickets were selling like hotcakes. But Branson’s grand plans were not meant to come true so quickly.

Unlike the classic vertical launch adopted by Blue Origin, the technology acquired by Virgin Galactic was based on an air-launch system. A special WhiteKnightTwo aircraft was supposed to take the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft to a height of 16km, after which the ship undocked, continued its independent flight and made a horizontal landing like a regular aircraft. The technology itself was not new – something similar was used in the Space Shuttle and Pegasus programmes, but it was the first time that a private company like Virgin Galactic was working on an air launch.

In December 2009, Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo was unveiled at the Mojave Spaceport, and Branson announced the company would postpone its first touring flight to 2011. However, Virgin Galactic debut had to be postponed for another 12 years.

Virgin Galactic’s fourth test flight ended in disaster in 2014. Shortly after undocking from the mothership, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo “VSS Enterprise” broke apart in mid-air, and its wreckage fell into the Mojave Desert. Co-pilot Michael Alsbury, aged 39, was killed, and pilot Peter Siebold, aged 43, was seriously injured.

This tragedy called for a serious rethinking of Virgin Galactic technology approaches. In 2016, VSS Enterprise was replaced by VSS Unity, which has become not only more reliable but higher and faster than its predecessor.

Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic passenger flights

Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic made their first passengers flights in the summer of 2021. Even though Bezos and Blue Origin had a 4-year head start, Branson and Virgin Galactic still managed to get ahead in this space race – even if only by a week. Blue Origin owner compensated for this with the number of flights, though. Blue Origin repeated its flight success in October while Virgin Galactic went on an extended break.

Even though both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic offer their customers to experience weightlessness and enjoy unforgettable views of the Earth from space, the difference between Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin flights is quite significant. We present answers to FAQs, which will help you to compare Blue Origin to Virgin Galactic offers.

What is Virgin Galactic vs Blue Origin flight price?

When it comes to Virgin Galactic vs Blue Origin price, companies until recently managed to maintain parity. Previously, both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin difference in price was insignificant as both companies stated that the flight would cost about 200-250 thousand dollars. However, in August 2021, Virgin Galactic significantly increased the cost of its tickets. Blue Origin New Shepard ticket prices have not been announced yet.

How long does a Virgin Galactic flight last?

In this regard, Virgin Galactic is the undisputed leader. Because of using different launch technologies, the Galactic VSS Unity flight lasts 2.5 hours, while the Blue Origin New Shepard trip takes only 11 minutes. Virgin Galactic needs more time for horizontal takeoff and landing, which is the main reason for Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic difference in flight duration. But the time spent in weightlessness is almost the same: 4 min Virgin Galactic vs 3 min Blue Origin.

What is Virgin Galactic Vs Blue Origin flight height?

Before answering which goes higher, Virgin Galactic or Blue Origin rocket, we should explain what a Karman line is. This line is considered a customary threshold of height beyond which space begins. It is generally accepted that the Karman line is 100 km above sea level. However, the FAI has long proposed lowering this figure to 85 km. In any case, this does not help Virgin Galactic since its VSS Unity can only reach an altitude of 80 km. Blue Origin New Shepard, however, easily reached 100 km bar, so Virgin Galactic vs Blue Origin height comparison favours the latter.

Virgin Galactic Vs Blue Origin flight capacity

The Blue Origin New Shepard capsule has a hemisphere shape and can accommodate six passengers who sit in comfortable chairs and can watch the flight through huge panoramic windows. Galactic VSS Unity requires two pilots, so with this allowance, it can only take four passengers. They also sit in comfortable chairs, but the windows in the Virgin Galactic cabin are not as large and visual, even though the actual number of windows is more compared to New Shepard.

What is the difference between Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin environmental impact?

Any rocket, when launched, burns tons of fuel, polluting the atmosphere. In terms of harmful emissions, the Virgin Galactic launch is equivalent to the flight of a transatlantic liner from New York to London. Blue Origin engines run on a low-toxic liquid hydrogen and oxygen vapour. This means that Blue Origin emissions are minimal.

Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic comparison table


Blue Origin

Virgin Galactic


327, 360 ft (100 km)

262, 000 feet (80 km)


falls back to Earth, using parachutes

glides back to Earth, lands like a plane


liquid hydrogen

polyamide plastic fuel

with a nitrous oxide oxidizer



aircraft carrier


six passengers

two crew members + two passengers

Weightless time

three minutes

 four minutes

Virgin Galactic vs Blue Origin: Which is better?

As you see, Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic difference is obvious, and the odds do not favour Richard Branson’s company. The only VSS Unity’s benefit over Blue Origin New Shepard is the flight duration and the time spent in zero gravity. But there is another minus. Blue Origin New Shepard is a real rocket, and even in 11 minutes, you will experience the flight at its fullest. With VSS Unity, most of the flight will not be much different from flying on a regular airliner. Besides, Virgin Galactic vs Blue Origin height reached is also in favour of Blue Origin.

Only time will tell if suborbital tourism will prove successful, but even now, the third member of the legendary trio of private space pioneers, Elon Musk, casts doubt on this. In September 2021, SpaceX successfully completed the 4-day Inspiration 4 orbital mission with the first tourists aboard the Crew Dragon, once again confirming its leading spot in the space race. So, we will have to wait and see if Blue Origin vs Virgin Galactic can compete with that.

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