- Elon Musk‘s rocket company, SpaceX, is raising about $US500 million in new investments.
- Estimates suggest SpaceX is now valued at about $US27.5 billion.
- SpaceX has three ambitious projects it’s working on and needs to fund.
- The company wants to launch the Starlink global satellite-internet network, colonize Mars using a huge spaceship, and create the world’s fastest transportation system.
Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, is raising about $US500 million in new funding.
The cash investment would be a boon to SpaceX, which is chasing three incredibly ambitious projects in the coming decade, including a global satellite-internet network, a spaceship to explore and colonize Mars, and the world’s fastest transportation system.
SpaceX confirmed that it filed updated articles of incorporation and series I funding in Delaware. According to a document provided to Business Insider by Lagniappe Labs (and first reported by The Information), the series makes available 3 million new shares, each valued at $US169, meaning SpaceX is raising about $US507 million.
Taking into account all nine rounds of funding, which add up to about $US2.2 billion, Equidate estimates SpaceX is now valued at about $US27.5 billion. However, the company’s exact value will be unclear until there’s an initial public offering or a private sale.
It’s also unclear who’s buying SpaceX’s shares, as sales of private investments are typically confidential and prearranged. A company representative declined to comment on the filing or say how the money would be spent.
But based on recent statements by Musk and Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and COO, the company has three big, clear targets for the cash.
Starlink satellite internet
One of SpaceX’s biggest new initiatives is called Starlink.
The plan, which the Federal Communications Commission approved in March, is to surround Earth with 12,000 internet-providing satellites. That’s more than twice the number of all spacecraft launched by humanity.
The goal of the project is to achieve global broadband coverage with speeds more than 178 times as fast as the current worldwide average. In 2015, according to Akamai’s “State of the Internet” report, that was 5.6 megabits per second; Starlink’s goal is 1 Gbps.
Musk also plans to bring the web to those who can’t afford it.
“If successful, Starlink constellation will serve least served,”he tweeted in February.
SpaceX has already built a satellite factory in Redmond, Washington, and it launched two experimental Starlink satellites on February 22. But manufacturing thousands of spacecraft and launching them into low Earth orbit – even dozens at a time with the Falcon Heavy rocket – will require serious capital.
“Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places where fibre optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Ajit Pai, the FCC’s chairman, previously said of SpaceX’s plans.
Big F—ing Rockets for Mars and beyond
SpaceX has achieved a swath of feats since its founding in 2002, not least of which is disrupting an expensive and relatively stagnant space industry.
Musk even recently called for a “new space race.”
On February 6, just after SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy – the world’s most powerful operational rocket – Musk said most of the company’s engineering resources were shifting toward a system called BFR.
Short for Big Falcon Rocket – or, as Musk likes to call it, the Big F—ing Rocket – the BFR is a 348-foot-tall reusable launch system designed to ferry up to 100 people and 150 tons of payload to Mars at a time.
The BFR design has two main sections: a 191-foot-tall rocket would push the spaceship into Earth orbit, and a 157-foot-long spaceship would fly toward the moon or Mars.
Everything would run on liquid methane and oxygen. The BFR would land itself and be fully reusable – a scheme that could slash the cost of access to space thousandfold. The first uncrewed launch to Mars is set (optimistically) for 2022, followed by a crewed launch in 2024.
Because of its presumable low cost – the system would be used over and over like a jet aircraft rather than only once – Musk envisions the BFR as replacing all the company’s offerings over time.
“We want to have one system, one booster and ship, that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon,” Musk said in September. “If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Heavy, and Dragon can be applied to this system.”
SpaceX recently secured a lease for a historic yet derelict site at the Port of Los Angeles, where it plans to build a 200,000-square-foot factory to make the spaceships and booster rockets for the BFR.
The location is just 14 miles south of the company’s headquarters – and an ideal place to ship the rockets by water to its test-and-launch facilities in Texas.
Musk also recently unveiled an enormous 30-by-40-foot tool to build the system’s spaceship out of carbon-fibre composite, and SpaceX is bringing other BFR tooling to the port to start building spaceships.
This work and the test launches in Texas, scheduled for sometime early next year, will not be cheap. But $US500 million could help make it happen.
“Mars is fine, but it’s a fixer-upper planet,” Shotwell said. “I want to find people, or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system.”
The world’s fastest transportation system
SpaceX’s big rocket system wouldn’t just be useful for reaching destinations far from Earth.
“If we’re building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, then why not go to other places on Earth as well?” Musk has said.
SpaceX says a BFR spaceship could fly more than 4.6 miles per second, more than 12 times as fast as the supersonic Concorde jets that are now retired. That would make it the world’s fastest transportation system.
Passengers might fly from Los Angeles to New York in just 25 minutes, Bangkok to Dubai in 27 minutes, London to New York in 29 minutes, and Delhi to San Francisco in 40 minutes, a SpaceX video says.
“This would not be for the faint of heart, and it is difficult to see how this would be inexpensive,” Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut, previously told Business Insider. “But the one thing I’ve learned from observing Elon is not to count him out.”
Shotwell said at the TED conference that this system may be ready to take customers within a decade.
Half a billion dollars isn’t enough to revolutionise the internet, send people to Mars, or set up a rocket-based flight system – let alone cover all three projects. But for a company that has done a lot with far less cash, it’s a good start.
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