SpaceX’s satellite-based internet project, Starlink, just crosses a key milestone. After a launch this morning (May 4), there are now more than 4,000 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth and providing high-speed internet service across the globe, including the most remote areas where traditional fiber optic internet can’t reach. At the current stage, SpaceX is almost done constructing its first-generation Starlink network in space, paving the way for the project’s next-phase development and a potential spinoff.
At 3:31 a.m. ET today, a reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched 56 Starlink satellites to low Earth orbit from the Florida Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It was SpaceX’s fourth mission in less than a week and the 30th launch this year—a record pace. The company is on track to launch 100 rocket missions in 2023, up from 61 last year.
Starlink is SpaceX’s main consumer-facing business and accounts for about a third of the company’s annual revenue. The broadband internet service starts at $110 a month, plus a $599 upfront fee for installing the ground terminal. (Starting this week, the Starlink terminal is available at select Home Depot stores in the U.S.)
SpaceX has been sending Starlink satellites to space in batches since 2019. The company has launched 81 Starlink missions using the workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, making it the largest satellite project ever carried out by a commercial space company.
The first few Starlink missions garnered extensive media coverage for their novelty. As the launch pace picked up and SpaceX worked on new projects like the Starship rocket, attention on Starlink launches waned. But the Starlink constellation in space kept growing, and so did its financial importance to SpaceX.
Starlink’s rapid growth fuels hope for an IPO
Last year, Starlink brought in $1 billion in revenue for SpaceX, and its commercial launch business generated about $2.3 billion in revenue, according to third-party analysis. (SpaceX is a private company and doesn’t disclose financial details.)
Starlink had more than one million users at the end of 2022 and is on track to turn a profit this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said at an event in February.
Elon Musk, who is the company’s CEO, has said he will take Starlink public as a separate company when its satellite internet business proves financially viable. A key metric of financial viability, according to Musk, is positive cash flow, which Starlink achieved for the first time in late 2022, Shotwell said.
SpaceX was most recently valued at $137 billion. Retail and institutional investors alike are eager to own a piece of the company, but access to its equity is limited because of its private status. If Starlink goes public, it could be one of the largest IPOs in recent years.
SpaceX’s Starlink launch calendar is only getting busier, with at least five missions already planned this month between Florida and California launch sites. The company eventually plans to place nearly 30,000 Starlink satellites in Earth orbit to provide faster, more stable internet service. So far, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates satellite deployment in space, has signed off on 7,500 of those, which SpaceX expects to launch over the next few years.