- SpaceX, the rocket company founded by Elon Musk, plans to surround Earth a gigantic network of internet-providing satellites called Starlink.
- In May, Musk said if Starlink could get a few per cent of the global telecommunications market, SpaceX could net $US30 billion to $US50 billion in annual revenue.
- Financial analysts at Morgan Stanley Research said in a report sent to Business Insider on Tuesday that they now considered SpaceX’s base valuation to be $US52 billion.
- However, the report notes a wide margin of error: If SpaceX is wildly successful with Starlink, their “bull case” suggests the company could be worth $US120 billion – but in a “bear case,” it could be worth $US5 billion if it falters.
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How much could SpaceX, the fast-moving private-rocket company founded by Elon Musk, actually be worth?
After SpaceX’s successful launch of 60 experimental Starlink internet satellites in May, CNBC reported the company’s estimated value was about $US33.3 billion. This barely eclipsed the valuation of Tesla, the electric-car company Musk heads. This was a roughly $US10 billion jump in valuation compared with estimates from 2017.
Titled “SpaceX, Starlink and Tesla: Moving into Orbit?” and sent to Business Insider on Tuesday, the document gives SpaceX a base valuation of $US52 billion – an increase of more than 50% compared with the latest reported number.
“This assumes that expanding access to the internet drives broadband penetration from 50% to 75% of the global population, with SpaceX able to capture ~10% of the incremental broadband subscribers,” the analysts wrote.
However, that’s just the middle-of-the-road estimate: The firm’s range in value for SpaceX is roughly a hundredfold.
If you’re a pessimist, and Starlink either struggles to turn its first few hundred satellites into a working internet service or fails to get many customers, the analysts said their “bear case” for SpaceX is just $US5 billion. Their “bull case,” on the other hand, is a staggering $US120 billion.
The analysts shared their summary and methodology ahead of the second annual Morgan Stanley Space Summit in New York on December 10.
Why Starlink could be so disruptive – and make SpaceX and Musk a lot of money
Traditional satellite internet relies on spacecraft that are larger, older, more expensive, and about 22,236 miles away from Earth. This limits coverage and bandwidth while making for laggy connections. Starlink, meanwhile, would hug Earth at hundreds to 1,000 miles away with a larger number of newer satellites. What’s more, they will link together into a floating internet backbone, providing a faster alternative to fibre-optic cables that span the world.
According to current government documents, Starlink may consist of nearly 12,000 satellites by the end of 2027. If that happens, SpaceX may own and operate more than six times the number of all operational spacecraft in orbit.
The goal is to cover Earth with high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access. Even partial deployment of Starlink would benefit the financial sector and bring pervasive broadband internet to rural and remote areas.
Completing the project may cost $US10 billion or more, Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in May 2018. That gambit – launching thousands of custom-built desk-sized satellites sent into space, 60 at a time, with perhaps 200 different Falcon 9 rocket missions – could be massive. Musk said during a call with reporters on May 15 that it could net the company perhaps $US30 billion to $US50 billion per year.
But SpaceX plans to get a robust Starlink service up and running much sooner than 2027, perhaps by 2020 or 2021.
“For the system to be economically viable, it’s really on the order of 1,000 satellites,” Musk said in May, “which is obviously a lot of satellites, but it’s way less than 10,000 or 12,000.”
He added: “I think within a year and a half, maybe two years – if things go well – SpaceX will probably have more satellites in orbit than all other satellites combined.”
More recently, SpaceX asked the US government to spread out its Starlink satellites to cover more of Earth’s surface sooner, Eric Berger at Ars Technica first reported.
But Mark Handley, a computer-networking researcher at University College London who’s studied Starlink, previously told Business Insider that SpaceX’s “is the most exciting new network we’ve seen in a long time,” adding that the project could affect the lives of everybody.
One thing Morgan Stanley Research’s report does not seem to account for, though, is SpaceX’s planned Starship launch system. If realised, according to Musk, it may reduce the cost of access to space by 100 to 1,000 times by being fully reusable. Mass estimates also suggest the towering 400-foot-tall system could launch hundreds of Starlink satellites into orbit at a time.