- SpaceX is a space transportation service and manufacturer of space rockets and other transport vehicles. It was founded by Elon Musk in 2002.
- SpaceX makes money by charging both governmental and commercial customers to send goods into space. These goods include ISS supplies and infrastructure, but also people and satellites for various purposes.
- SpaceX is also in the process of creating its Starlink network, designed to give every citizen access to fast and affordable internet.
SpaceX Origin Story
SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation service founded by Elon Musk in 2002.
SpaceX was created to reinvigorate public interest in space exploration which Musk hoped would channel more funds to NASA.
In the early years, he made a failed trip to Russia after attempting to buy cheap rockets. During the flight home, Musk decided he could start a company and build the rockets himself. But this would only be achievable by using cheaper, off-the-shelf componentry incorporating the modular nature of software engineering.
Rocket engineer Tom Mueller joined SpaceX soon after the company was founded. By 2005, it had already amassed 150 employees. SpaceX now has an impressive list of achievements, becoming the first privately-owned company to launch, orbit, and then recover a spacecraft. It was also the first such company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) and re-use an orbital rocket.
SpaceX is now valued at $74 billion and continues to attract strong attention from investors for its visionary products.
SpaceX revenue generation
SpaceX is essentially a delivery service. If an organization wants to send goods to the ISS or launch a satellite into orbit, the company uses its fleet of vehicles including the Dragon, Falcon Heavy, and Falcon 9.
As successful as SpaceX has been, it should be noted that it competes with several other companies for space delivery services. These include Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Northrop-Grumman.
With all of that said, let’s take a look at some specific SpaceX revenue streams.
Governmental supply contracts
SpaceX has won several NASA contracts to resupply the International Space Station. The most recent contract involves $2.9 billion in funding to build a spacecraft to send astronauts to the moon.
The company has also worked with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), launching a satellite in 2012 to monitor global sea levels and oceanic circulation. The cost of this launch was approximately $82 million.
Similar contracts for the Air Force saw the launch of a GPS satellite in 2015 and in 2020, SpaceX won a contract to provide 40% of all U.S. military launch requirements.
In more recent years, SpaceX has made more money from commercial service deliveries. Each delivery using the Falcon 9 rocket is advertised at $62 million.
Starlink is a network of satellites designed to give high-speed internet access to every citizen on Earth.
Although the project is in its infancy, SpaceX has already secured government contracts to bring high-speed internet to rural U.S customers. Finance services firm Morgan Stanley estimate that the service will be offered for $50/month, giving SpaceX $24 billion in annual free cash flow by 2040.
Other sources of SpaceX revenue
On September 15, 2021, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft became the first crewed orbital mission without professional astronauts. The mission, named Inspiration4, was piloted by self-confessed space geek and billionaire Jared Isaacman who only had around 6,000 hours of experience piloting various aircraft.
Inspiraton4 was powered by the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the company also ran a six-month training program for Isaacman and the three other crew members. While considering his options in the planning stage of the mission, Isaacman noted in an interview that “there was no question it was going to be SpaceX. They’re leading the path.” Indeed, SpaceX already had a proven track record in transporting astronauts to the International Space Station.
More to the point, the first successful mission without professional astronauts paves the way for an additional source of company revenue. There are likely to be further missions in the future as SpaceX continues to work toward commercial spaceflight, with Elon Musk stating that these missions help SpaceX “bring the costs down and make space accessible for all.”
SpaceX also offers the so-called “Smallsat” rideshare program to give companies with modest payloads affordable access to space.
Prices for this service start at $1 million for a 200 kg (440 lbs) payload delivered to sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), with rates also available for mid-inclination low Earth orbit (LEO), geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), and trans-lunar injection (TLI). SSO missions depart approximately every four months with more frequent mid-inclination launches.
Additional mass for any mission is charged at the rate of $5,000 per kilogram. If the client payload is delayed for whatever reason, SpaceX also charges a 10% fee to have the launch rescheduled to a later date.
Since the program was launched in 2017, SpaceX has noted the logistical difficulties of being a small satellite aggregator. In an interview with Space News magazine in 2019, the vice president of commercial sales Tom Ochinero quipped that the process of trying to get several customers ready at the same time was akin to herding cats. Ochinero also mentioned that individual launches would go ahead even if the Falcon 9 rockets were not carrying the maximum payload.
In 2021, SpaceX transported a total of 231 small satellites into orbit across two flights in January and June, with clients including telecommunications company Kepler Communications and Earth-imaging business Planet Labs. A deal was also struck with Varda Space Industries to launch its space factory aboard a mission slated for Q1 2023. The company is hoping to establish the world’s first commercial industrial park at scale, manufacturing items such as fiber optic cables and life-saving pharmaceuticals to take advantage of the zero-gravity, vacuum environment of space.
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