SpaceX reports raising a billion dollars for Starlink and Starship space projects

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk talks about the Starship super-rocket in September 2018. (SpaceX via YouTube)

On the heels of a successful 60-satellite launch, SpaceX says it has raised more than $1 billion for its Starlink satellite internet venture and its super-heavy-lift Starship rocket development effort.

The higher-than-expected investments were reported today in two amended filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. One financing round, which was opened last December, netted $486 million. The other, which opened last month, brought in $535 million. And between the two rounds, there was still $18.8 million in equity to offer, according to the filings.

The SEC forms indicate that the earlier round involved eight investors, and the later round involved five investors. Because they’re separate filings, there may be some overlap between the investment groups. An SEC filing in January reported eight investors for the round that opened in December — which suggests that, at least in that case, the same group of investors boosted their bets since then.

One of the investors is known to be the Scottish investment bank Baillie Gifford. CNBC quoted unnamed sources as saying that other investors include Gigafund, led by longtime SpaceX backers Luke Nosek and Stephen Oskoui.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said large investments are required to fund the development and launch of the company’s Starlink satellite constellation, which aims to provide high-bandwidth, low-latency internet service on a global basis.

The investment issue came up last week during a teleconference with reporters that was organized in advance of the Starlink launch. Musk took issue with a suggestion that the funding rounds had come up short for Starlink, based on earlier SEC filings:

“I wouldn’t say our funding rounds came up short. In fact, they’ve been oversubscribed for SpaceX. I think you may have out-of-date information. … There was more interest than we were seeking, actually.

“That said, this is obviously a multibillion-dollar endeavor. So we’ve got the cash flow that we generate from our normal launch operations … as well as capital that we have raised. At this point, it looks like we have sufficient capital to get to an operational level. But of course if things go wrong, and there are unexpected issues, then we will need to raise more capital in that situation.”

Musk has also said fresh investments would go toward developing Starship — which is meant to take on missions to the moon and to Mars, and perhaps even point-to-point travel to earthly destinations. During last week’s teleconference, he said the anticipated revenue from Starlink could be directed toward Starship as well.

“We believe we can use the revenue from Starlink to fund Starship. … Launch revenue probably taps out at around $3 billion a year, but internet service revenue is probably more like $30 billion a year, potential, or maybe more,” Musk said.

Musk’s competitors are also raising billions of dollars. In March, OneWeb reported that a group of backers including Qualcomm Technologies, Mexico’s Grupo Salinas and Japan’s SoftBank Group committed another $1.2 billion to the venture’s plan for a global satellite broadband network. That brought the total investment in OneWeb to $3.4 billion.

Another player in the satellite broadband market is publicly traded Amazon, which revealed plans for its Project Kuiper constellation last month. With a market valuation of nearly $900 billion, Amazon probably has all the capital it needs to fund Project Kuiper for the foreseeable future.

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