SpaceX has revealed some key details about its Starlink satellite internet constellation in a recent regulatory presentation, touching on overall investment, user terminal development and its space generation capabilities.
Already the world’s largest satellite constellation by a factor of three or more, Starlink is more than 500 strong operational satellites after just nine months of launch, and the company has at least 5-8 more missions scheduled between now and the end of 2020. To further expand the world’s largest constellation of satellites, however, SpaceX must also be the world’s most prolific satellite manufacturer by at least an order of magnitude.
Since the first dedicated launch of StarX on SpaceX in May 2019, the company has remained extremely secretive about the unparalleled satellite production infrastructure that also had to be developed. Aside from a few comments from CEO Elon Musk and the occasional announcement from regulatory documents or space flight conferences, very little is known and not a single photo has been released. An FCC ish parte the presentation with some specific details came as a surprise, revealing that SpaceX is building at least 120 Starlink satellites a month at its Redmond, Washington plant.
Based on past analysis of SpaceX RedX facilities, the company has about 150,000 square feet (14,000 m ^ 2) to work with, of which one-half to one-half is likely to be dedicated to a satellite mounting line. Despite the relatively small facilities, SpaceX says it is actively building 120 satellites a month – the equivalent of at least 1,440 spacecraft a year. By and large, that means SpaceX is burning more than just 30 metric tons (69,000 b) of satellites each month, a figure almost undoubtedly in the history of satellite production.
Durable over 12 months, this would equate to 360 metric tons (10% heavier than a fully-fuel Falcon 9 V1.0 rocket) of satellites built each year. In short, with an extremely small (and thus efficient) base of operations, SpaceX is regularly producing a large amount of satellites – enough to endlessly support two full Starlink launches per month. At that rate, SpaceX could easily complete the first phase of the Starlink constellation with the 4400 in satellite in just three years.
Production capacity or efficiency will need to be significantly expanded for SpaceX to complete the second phase (12,000 satellites of satellites) and the third (40,000 satellites) of the Starlink constellation. Until then, however, the first phase is likely to generate significant revenue, optimally allowing SpaceX to self-finance future growth or at least dramatically reducing the need for fundraising.
Along these lines, the same FCC ex parte presentation included a note that “SpaceX has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Starlink to date,” including “over $ 70 million developing and manufacturing thousands of user terminals per month.” In other words, SpaceX has apparently spent less – and perhaps much less – than $ 1 billion on the design, production and launch of nearly 600 satellites. By comparison, rival OneWeb apparently spent more than $ 3.4 billion and filed for bankruptcy before launching another 100 satellites.
That tremendous efficiency will, as CEO Elon Musk has noted several times, in the hope that Starlink will make the first low-Earth (LEO) online star in history not The company hopes to launch a wider Starlink beta test after the release of its 14th satellite v1.0 – currently four launches. If all goes well during this beta test, Starlink could become the first online LEO constellation in history to start generating substantial revenue not too long after.
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