On the eve of the last day of 2021, SEC filings show that SpaceX has secured another $337 million, bringing the total funding the company has raised this year to approximately $1.85 billion.
While there’s evidence that SpaceX’s Falcon and Dragon launch business is easily profitable on its own, the company has been simultaneously developing a next-generation rocket (Starship) and an unprecedentedly ambitious internet satellite constellation (Starlink) for at least the last 5-6 years. Additionally, SpaceX developed Falcon booster reusability and Falcon Heavy entirely on its own at a total cost of at least $1-2 billion. In short, rocket development is incredibly expensive, and adding a far more ambitious rocket and an immense satellite constellation into the mix has created an insatiable demand for fresh capital.
Investors have been more than eager to satisfy that demand, practically chomping at the bit to buy SpaceX equity or debt over the last six years. Since 2015, SpaceX has raised an average of more than $1B per year for the last seven years.
That funding has accomplished a great deal. As of the end of 2021, SpaceX has built and launched 1869 operational Starlink satellites in 25 months, more than 1750 of which are still in orbit and working. SpaceX has also built hundreds of thousands of ‘user terminals’ – dishes and WiFi routers that currently connect more than 150,000 subscribers to the internet even while the service remains in beta.
Starship, while somewhat behind its CEO’s optimistic schedules, continues to march towards its first spaceflight and orbital-velocity launch attempt – possibly in the first half of 2022. With help from its Hawthorne, CA headquarters, SpaceX’s Starbase factory continues to churn out Starship, Super Heavy booster, and test tank prototypes and appears to be ramping back up after six or so months of relative quiet. Having produced approximately 150 Raptor 1 and Raptor 1.5 engines in the last two years, Hawthorne is now focused on ramping up production of Raptor 2 – an upgraded engine variant capable of producing up to 25% more thrust while, in theory, being far cheaper to produce.
In about 12 months, SpaceX has also built – from nothing – an orbital launch site on the verge of being ready to support the first test flights of the largest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever built. To accommodate the massive vehicle, SpaceX has also nearly completed the largest cryogenic tank farm ever built for a launch site and partially filled at least four or five of its seven cryogenic storage tanks. Alongside that tank farm, the company has more or less completed a skyscraper-sized launch tower and outfitted it with three giant, moving arms – two of which are designed to stack Starship on Super Heavy and, maybe one day, catch ships and boosters out of mid-air.
According to a company-wide email CEO Elon Musk recently wrote but subsequently downplayed on Twitter, SpaceX’s financial health could be heavily dependent on the successful start and expansion of Raptor 2 production to enable Starship to begin launching new and much-improved Starlink V2.0 satellites. Those satellites are several times larger than V1.0 or V1.5 spacecraft, apparently making it hard or impossible for Falcon 9 to cost-effectively launch them.
On top of building and activating new factories capable of producing millions of Starlink user terminals per year, completing the first phase of orbital Starship development, ramping up Raptor 2 production, starting to build a fleet of operational Starships and Super Heavy boosters, continuing Falcon 9 Starlink V1.5 launches, and simultaneously building or completing no less than three orbital Starship launch sites in Florida and Texas, SpaceX thus also apparently needs to complete Starlink V2.0 satellite development and effectively build one or several entirely new production lines to start producing the substantially different spacecraft.
A large portion of SpaceX’s 2021 funding – especially the ~$337M raised in the last two weeks – will likely help support a portion of all those development efforts next year.