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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Arif Hudaverdi Yaman (Anadolu Agency), James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Richard Branson is scheduled to blast off this Sunday on a test flight for Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company that went public in 2019 via SPAC, beating Jeff Bezos to sub-orbit by just nine days.

Why it matters: There's a lot more riding on these rockets than rival billionaires.

  • Venture capitalists invested around $4.5 billion into 77 space-related companies in Q1 2021, according to Space Capital. Over the past decade, the figures rise to $187 billion into nearly 1,500 companies (most of which are U.S.-based).
  • Few of these companies focus directly on space tourism, as it's not nearly as lucrative as satellite launches, but the Branson/Bezos flights are about to become the entire industry's public face. Were anything catastrophic to occur, it could have massive ripple effects on everything from regulation to investment interest.
  • Conversely, successful trips could increase investment interest, including by airlines or other sorts of aerospace companies that so far have kept their flight sights within the atmosphere.

Axios Space editor Miriam Kramer told me yesterday on the Axios Re:Cap podcast that the billionaire space race, while unimportant in terms of who launches first, has sparked more attention than ever before on the private space industry:

  • “If you look at these companies that are taking what was once purely the purview of governments and bringing it on themselves, I think that is wildly influential and will be on par with sort of the revolution that happened with the Soviet Union and U.S. fighting for space supremacy … And it could have longer lasting effects than the Apollo program did for the U.S., because that ended and we haven’t sent people to the moon since 1972.”
  • Listen to our full conversation via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Axios.com. And sign up for Miriam's newsletter.

The bottom line: Companies in emerging industries often build on each other's successes, and can be harmed by each other's failures. The difference in this case is that the whole world will be watching.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 13, 2021 - Science

Blue Origin launches William Shatner, 3 others to space

The crew of NS-18, Audrey Powers, William Shatner, Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries, with CrewMember 7 Sarah Knights. Photo Courtesy of Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin successfully flew William Shatner — Captain Kirk himself from "Star Trek" — and three other astronauts to space for its second human mission on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The launch was another step toward proving the company can safely launch people to suborbital space and bring them back to Earth.

54 seconds ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro,age 13, is inoculated by Nurse Karen Pagliaro at Hartford Healthcares mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Connecticut. Photo: JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of 5 and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the shots.

8 mins ago - Sports

Where it stands: Weed policies by U.S. sports league

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With public support for marijuana legalization nearing unanimity, and more athletes using cannabis to treat pain, the four major U.S. sports leagues continue to reduce restrictions and punishments.

Driving the news: NBA players won't be subject to random marijuana testing this season, an extension of an agreement between the league and its players' union that began ahead of the 2020 Orlando restart.