Interview Synopsis

SpaceX – regulatory challenges and Starlink outlook

  • Private Equity
  • Industrials
  • North America

SpaceX blasted over 2,000 Starlink satellites into space at the start of the year as it continues to build its 4,408-strong constellation. A former senior executive at SpaceX told Third Bridge Forum that it is on “a good path” to finish its constellation, but that getting approval for another 30,000 satellites is raising “concern” in Washington.

Will SpaceX earn authorisation for 30,000 more satellites?

In the Interview, the specialist described SpaceX’s ability to build eight satellites per day and carry approximately 60 satellites per launch as “extraordinary”. They told us that smaller satellites, easier access to space and an “insatiable” TAM for broadband are driving this new wave of satellite installation.

The specialist believes daily launches of SpaceX’s Starship are “feasible” and that the company might completely redesign current satellites to fit in the fully reusable spacecraft. They also believe Starship could carry 100 satellites per launch, and that SpaceX does not need to upscale satellite production to reach over 4,000 Starlink satellites in Earth’s orbit.   

While we were told that producing satellites in large volumes is not yet a “feature” of the industry, the specialist sees no reason why SpaceX cannot upscale production if required. However, funding and concerns regarding the crowdedness of space are potential barriers to more satellites being launched, according to the specialist. 

SpaceX does not yet have authorisation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for an extra 30,000 satellites, and the specialist is sceptical it could gain such approval. Growing wariness of large numbers of satellites and space debris has made earning approval from the FCC more difficult, in the specialist’s opinion, with Amazon’s application one of the few to secure authorisation from the governing body over the past two years. 

The specialist said Starlink continues to experience “growing pains” in its fulfilment and customer service operations as its customer base grows. However, its pace of growth is likely to slow as it enters more “complex” markets, with the specialist offering their opinion on the likelihood of SpaceX working in Russia, China, India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.  

Access to launch pads and building its own satellites are advantages SpaceX has over OneWeb and Telesat, according to the specialist – giving it control over the pace and cost of its satellite deployment. However, in the specialist’s opinion, Amazon is “one to watch” given it has experience in both receiving payments in a foreign currency and a strong customer support network. 

In the Interview, the specialist questioned SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s claims in June 2021 that the company needs USD 30bn to survive. They said that the announcement should be interpreted as “a call to focus, not a call to fear”, and that if Musk really needed to raise USD 30bn, then “he could”.

To access all the human insights in Third Bridge Forum’s SpaceX – regulatory challenges and Starlink outlook Interview, click here to view the full transcript.

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The information used in compiling this document has been obtained by Third Bridge from experts participating in Forum Interviews. Third Bridge does not warrant the accuracy of the information and has not independently verified it. It should not be regarded as a trade recommendation or form the basis of any investment decision.

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