SpaceX raises more than half a billion dollars for Starship, Starlink programs

SpaceX has secured another ~$570 million to continue developing its ambitious Starlink and Starship programs. (SpaceX)

In the last three months, SpaceX has managed to raise more than half a billion dollars from private investors, money that will likely go directly into the company’s ambitious Starship and Starlink programs.

Despite a huge amount of public focus now placed on SpaceX’s successfully-realized human spaceflight ambitions, said by NASA to have been viewed live by no less than 10 million people around the world, the company is still committed to two extraordinarily ambitious development programs. Known as Starlink and Starship, both are integral to SpaceX’s founding goal of enabling the sustainable expansion of humanity into space.

Starship aims to be the world’s first fully-reusable orbital-class launch vehicle, nominally enabling SpaceX to place 150 metric tons (330,000 lb) in orbit with a single, low-cost launch. With orbital refueling from other Starship tankers, SpaceX could potentially send dozens of people to Mars at a cost that could put a ticket in reach of hundreds of millions of – if not more than a billion – people around the world. Starlink is no less ambitious and aims to blanket every inch of the Earth with high-quality, low-cost broadband internet via a fleet of more than 40,000 satellites. Both share three main similarities: they offer immense technical challenges, require extremely capital-intensive development programs, and may – if successful – enable the sustainable settlement of Mars.

With a whole lot of luck, this image could one day be realized with the help of Starship and Starlink. (SpaceX)

First reported by CNBC after SpaceX amended an SEC filing on May 26th, the news unsurprisingly fell through the cracks less than 24 hours before the company attempted its inaugural NASA astronaut launch. Initially said to have raised $567 million out of a target of $500 million, CNBC later revised their report on SpaceX’s latest round of funding, instead stating that the company had raised $346 million with a $349.9 million funding round.

As it turns out, the initial report was technically correct aside from its assertion that SpaceX was pursuing a $500M raise. Between two separate funding rounds seeking $250 million and $349.9 million, both opened on February 28th, 2020, SpaceX was able to raise $567 million of the $599.9 million it was hoping for from 27 investors. Based on SEC filings, SpaceX has now raised more than $1.6 billion since the start of 2019, nearly all of which has likely gone towards its expensive Starship and Starlink programs.

An Earth-based view of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites in orbit. (Richard Angle)
Despite a recent setback, SpaceX’s Starship program has made extraordinary progress in the last six months. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

Incredibly, in just the last five months, SpaceX has managed to launch 360 Starlink satellites, while the next launch – scheduled no earlier than (NET) June 3rd – should give the company an orbital fleet around 475 satellites strong. Admittedly, 475 satellites represent barely more than 1% of the fleet SpaceX will need to realize its full Starlink ambitions, but it’s already the largest operational satellite constellation by more than a factor of two. By Starlink-14, potentially launching as early as August 2020, SpaceX can begin generating revenue by serving customers internet, revenue that – once profitable – could partially or fully fund Starship and Mars settlement development.

Two Starship prototypes – SN5 and SN6 – near completion at SpaceX’s South Texas factory. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

In the same period of time, SpaceX has dramatically expanded its South Texas Starship production facilities, built and tested several test tanks past the pressures needed for orbital flight, built and tested three full-scale Starship prototypes, and performed five successful Raptor engine static fires with one of those vehicles.

In short, the company has made extraordinary progress. Thanks to the unprecedented efficiency of Starship and Starlink production and the low cost and reusability of Falcon 9, SpaceX has also done so on a shoestring budget that would make its competitors and national space agencies recoil in disbelief. With another half a billion dollars in the bank and the continued support of Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, SpaceX has likely secured at least another 12-18 months of full-steam-ahead Starship and Starlink development.

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Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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