SpaceX’s most ambitious projects are to surround the world with a network of internet satellites, and to build a huge rocket that can carry humans to the moon and Mars. Recent regulatory filings, market intelligence and, naturally, tweets from founder Elon Musk provide new details about the two projects and an inkling of how they will be paid for.
The company’s main product, the Falcon 9 rocket, was certified by NASA yesterday for its most expensive scientific missions, a “major achievement for the Falcon 9 team” per SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell. The company disclosed that it has at least 22 Falcon 9 missions planned for 2019, a robust manifest (and revenue) underscoring the maturity of the vehicle as it prepares to fly astronauts next year.
But the world only spends $5.5 billion on rocket launches each year; competing against national champions in Europe, Russia and China, SpaceX can’t dominate that market totally despite its commercial advantages. To justify its enormous $27 billion valuation, it needs to develop new lines of business.
Starlink, a plan to launch several thousand satellites into low-earth orbit and provide internet service to users below, has been at the heart of SpaceX’s financial plans for years. This year has seen ups and downs: The successful launch of two prototype satellites for the constellation and government approval for the plan, but also a significant re-organization of its strategic leadership. SpaceX has refused to say who at the company is now in charge of designing and building the satellites.
Nonetheless, the company still targets 2020 to launch the service and plans to launch its first batch of satellites by the end of next year. One computer scientist, Mark Handley at University College London, believes the connection will be speedy enough to attract high-speed traders seeking an advantage over their rivals.
The Falcon 9 does its thing.
SpaceX is making moves in Washington during the FCC’s “Space Month,” a push by commission chair Ajit Pai to demonstrate government commitment to easing the regulatory path for extra-terrestrial business. One issue is that the plan for Starlink requires eventually launching 4,425 satellites—doubling the number currently in orbit, and raising the risk of collisions and new space debris.
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SOURCE: Quartz, Tim Fernholz