SpaceXs

SpaceX’s Future Depends on a Gigantic Rocket and 42,000 Internet Satellites

SpaceX wants to use its Starship rocket for the kind of voyages to Mars and beyond that

Elon Musk

has long dreamed of pursuing.

Starship also forms an important foundation of the future business strategy at his space company, which wants to use the vehicle in part to build out Starlink, the satellite-internet service many investors believe could eventually form the bulk of the company’s revenue.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the formal name for the company Mr. Musk founded almost two decades ago, faces steep challenges in engineering Starship into a reusable rocket that would sharply drive down launch costs. Mr. Musk recently said the ship takes up more of his time than any other single initiative, and warned the vehicle, along with the internet service, are creating significant challenges for the company.

“Starship is a hard, hard, hard, hard project,” he said at a December event hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “This is the biggest rocket ever made.”

Starship, which would be blasted to orbit on a booster dubbed Super Heavy, stands 160 feet tall and has a diameter of 30 feet, creating room to send hundreds of Starlink satellites to orbit at once, more than the several dozen it is able to deploy right now on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. More than half of the launches tracked by U.S. flight-safety regulators that the company has conducted the past two years have been Starlink deployments.

This year, billionaire CEO Elon Musk reached several milestones across Tesla, SpaceX and Starlink. WSJ reporters Rebecca Elliott and Micah Maidenberg break down some of his biggest moments in 2021 and what’s to come in 2022. Illustration: Tom Grillo

The company plans to rapidly boost the pace of satellite launches in the years ahead. SpaceX, in a July presentation to the Federal Communications Commission, said it had so far launched around 1,800 Starlink satellites and was active in more than 20 countries. The FCC has authorized SpaceX to launch around 12,000 satellites, but the company wants to add at least around 30,000 more, according to commission filings.

Mr. Musk said at an industry conference this summer that SpaceX is likely to invest at least $5 billion and perhaps as much as $10 billion in Starlink before it fully starts generating cash, with ongoing investments after that.

In a November tweet, Mr. Musk said if severe global recession cut into the availability of capital and liquidity while SpaceX was losing billions on Starship and Starlink, then bankruptcy “while still unlikely, is not impossible.”

Over the past two years, the company began equity sales that raised at least $3.8 billion, according to filings that some private companies like SpaceX may have to disclose under Securities and Exchange Commission rules. SpaceX doesn’t release financial statements.

A spokesman for the company pointed to a recent statement posted to SpaceX’s website that said in part the company’s year ahead would include a potential first orbital mission for Starship and expanding Starlink.

Mr. Musk unveiled

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