Elon Musk probably took it for granted that his space exploration company would launch and land the first private space mission to Mars. If he did think SpaceX had cornered the market, though, he doesn’t anymore.

This week, two space startups announced an audacious plan to send a lander to Mars in late 2024. The technical hurdles are high. But even if the mission fails, it will create something important and lasting: a space race between private companies, not nation-states.

Companies have always had a role in space exploration. The early accomplishments of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, including the Apollo moon landings, depended on private aerospace contractors. Later, companies came to dominate the design and operation of communication and other types of commercial satellites.