SpaceX is Banking on Its Satellite Business to Pay for Mars Missions

SpaceX's Official Facebook Page

SpaceX will launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday for the first time since August to deliver 10 satellites into orbit — and it’s very critical the mission goes smoothly. If SpaceX wants to fulfill its ambitious goals of sending spacecrafts to Mars, it will need to ensure the satellite business has a bright and secure future.

Saturday’s launch will deliver satellites for satellite communication company Iridium. But that’s not SpaceX’s only planned work with satellites. The company plans to start a business to provide Internet using satellites, and based on financial documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX hopes it can gain enough revenue from the satellite-internet business to finance missions to Mars.

SpaceX has high hopes for this business. The company projected that the business would have over 40 million subscribers by 2025, bringing in more than $30 billion in revenue. Even though the business is still in the planning stages, SpaceX expects that the revenue from the business will overtake SpaceX’s core launch division in three years.

To raise the money to develop Elon Musk's interplanetary vision, SpaceX needs to keep up its satellite business.

These projections come after financial losses for SpaceX after two launching accidents. SpaceX experienced its first major disaster in June 2015, when one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded shortly after the launch. In the months after, SpaceX had many launch delays. That year, SpaceX lost about $260 million and dropped 6 percent in revenue, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Unfortunately for SpaceX, another explosion happened in September. It destroyed a $200 million commercial satellite backed by Facebook — and led to a four-month delay.

As a result, SpaceX likely suffered more financial loss. At the beginning of the year, SpaceX predicted $1.8 billion in revenue, but this goal was unlikely unmet because it only launched eight out of 20 planned rockets.

SpaceX prepares to launch its Falcon 9 rocket.  It will launch on Saturday, for the first time since the September 1 launchpad explosion.

SpaceX's Official Facebook Page

Despite the unpredictability of space operations, SpaceX’s goals remain large. The company plans to launch over 4,000 satellites for a constellation that provides global Internet access — and the first phase will online in 2018. If Saturday’s launch goes smoothly as planned, that’s good news for the future, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk targets 27 launches for this year (even though the most launches SpaceX ever had in a year was eight). If not, that likely means more financial loss and delays.

“We have more than 70 future launches on our manifest representing over $10 billion in contracts,” said SpaceX Chief Financial Officer Bret Johnson told the Wall Street Journal. “The company is in a financially strong position and is well positioned for future growth.”

Some of these launches include additional launches for Iridium, which plans to put at least 70 satellites in space for a satellite constellation.

By 2019, SpaceX hopes to launch 52 missions — one every week. And Musk still hopes he can send people to Mars by 2024, but that would require developing a rocket that is much more powerful than what’s currently available.

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