The cash investment would be a boon to SpaceX, which is chasing three incredibly ambitious projects in the coming decade. Those plans include 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 $169, which means SpaceX is raising about $507 million.
Taking all nine rounds of funding into account, which add up to about $2.2 billion, a new estimate by Equidate suggests SpaceX is now valued at around $27.5 billion. It’s uncertain, however, what the company’s real-world value might until there’s initial public offering or private sale.
It’s also unclear who’s buying SpaceX’s shares, since sales of private investments are typically confidential and pre-arranged. 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
Two SpaceX demonstration satellites for Starlink, a plan to bathe Earth in high-speed internet.SpaceX/YouTube
One of SpaceX’s biggest new initiatives is called Starlink. The plan, which the US Federal Communications Initiative 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 ultimate 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 fiber 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
Reusable spaceships might enable SpaceX to colonize Mars.SpaceX/YouTube
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.
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, BRF is a 348-foot-tall reusable launch system designed to ferry up to 100 people and 150 tons of payload toward Mars at a time.
The BFR design has two main sections: a rocket and a spaceship. The 191-foot-tall rocket would push the spaceship into orbit around Earth, then the 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 optimistically slated for 2022, followed by a crewed launch in 2024.
Due its presumable low cost — the system would be used over and over like a jet aircraft, rather than a one-off rocket — Musk envisions BFR as a replacement to all of 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 2017. “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 plans to build a 200,000-square-foot Mars spaceship factory in the Port of Los Angeles. Google Earth; Business Insider SpaceX recently secured a lease for a historic yet derelict site at the Port of Los Angeles. There, the company is about to build a 200,000-square-foot factory to make the spaceships and booster rockets that comprise 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 Texas-based test and launch facilities.
Musk also recently unveiled an enormous 30-by-40-foot tool to build the system’s spaceship out of carbon-fiber composite. SpaceX is bringing other BFR tooling to the port to start building spaceships as well.
This work and the future test launches in Texas (scheduled for sometime in early 2019) will not be cheap. Half a billion dollars could help make it happen, though.
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 previously said.
A BFR spaceship could fly more than 4.6 miles per second, according to SpaceX, which is more than 12 times as fast as the now-retired supersonic Concorde jets. 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, according to a SpaceX video.
“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 of SpaceX’s goals. “But the one thing I’ve learned from observing Elon is not to count him out.”
Shotwell said at TED 2018 that this system may be ready to take customers within a decade.
Half a billion dollars isn’t enough to revolutionize 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’s done a lot with far less cash, it’s a good start.