For SpaceX’s internet-satellite division, Starlink, the end of 2022 was to be a critical point in time when its broadband internet service would bring in $12 billion in annual revenue, reach positive cash flow, and possibly spin-off from its parent company and go public. But when last year wrapped, Starlink had generated only $1.4 billion in revenue, according to documents reported by The Wall Street Journal yesterday (Sept. 13). The figure was more than six times what Starlink brought in the previous year ($222 million), but still a far cry from where SpaceX CEO Elon Musk would like it to be.
According to a 2015 fundraising presentation seen by the Journal, SpaceX estimated the satellite division that later became Starlink would generate $12 billion in revenue and $7 billion in operating profit in 2022. That would require the program to have about 20 million subscribers. In reality, Starlink had only about one million subscribers as of last year, SpaceX has disclosed.
Due to its private status, SpaceX’s financial details are hard to come by. Investors closely watch for any clues that would shed light on what’s behind SpaceX’s $150 billion valuation, which makes it the second most valuable private company in the world (behind TikTok parent ByteDance).
The Journal reported Starlink posted a loss in 2022 and a slim profit in the first quarter of this year, and capital expenditures at SpaceX overall came at $3.2 billion in 2022. Besides Starlink, the company’s other main business is launching rockets for government and commercial clients.
SpaceX didn’t respond to an inquiry to confirm any of these numbers.
Starlink charges a monthly fee of $110 or more for high-speed broadband internet plus a $599 one-time fee for installing a ground terminal. The rate is higher than most optic fiber internet services on the market, but Starlink allows customers to access internet from anywhere in the world, including remote areas and moving spaces, such as airplanes and boats, where fiber optics are not available.
Currently, Starlink has about 4,700 satellites operating in low-Earth orbit and serves 60 countries. But the market hasn’t proven large enough to fulfill Musk’s revenue goals.
In February, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said Starlink achieved quarterly positive cash flow for the first time in 2022 (she didn’t say which quarter) and is on track to turn a profit this year. Musk has said SpaceX will spin Starlink off as a separate company and take it public when its satellite internet business proves financially viable. “Once we can predict cash flow reasonably well, Starlink will IPO,” he tweeted in February 2021.