We do not know any details about the radical change to the SpaceX Spaceship Super Heavy (aka BFS/BFR) design. However, if the design enables SpaceX to hit the $2 billion lower-end development cost then SpaceX has the money to develop Starship Super Heavy and the Starlink satellite network. It would only cost about $3 billion if everything works out.
Every strategic and design decision from SpaceX is to speed up getting to a fully integrated and complete BFR/BFS. The recent mini-BFR is for low-cost testing on the Falcon 9. Stopping any second stage reuse tests for the Falcon 9 is not needed for the full Super Heavy.
Funds for Starship Super Heavy and Starlink
SpaceX has the following funds:
* Estimated $500-800 million from the Japanese billionaire (for the trip, co-promotion and some part of the company)
* $750 million from the loan.
* Some amount of profit from 40 – $60 million launches. $2.4 billion in revenue. I think maybe 30-40% operating margin. $800 million per year from launches. Note there are not forty Falcon 9 launches but any NASA, military or Heavy launches count as multiple based upon the higher price.
Two years of profits would mean about $3.05 billion available.
SpaceX might be able to get lucky with shoestring development costs to get to 1600 Starlink satellites and a working Starship Super Heavy. A working Starship Super Heavy (aka BFR) means full reusability and even without a huge increase in the number of launch customers boosts operating margin up over 90%. Four Spaceship Super Heavy at $350 million each would be a total cost of $1.4 billion. Four Spaceship Super Heavies could handle up to 200 launches per year by launching every week. 60 of the launches can be used for Starlink launches. The rest of the commercial satellite market would take time to scale up.
First 1600 Starlink Satellites for about $60 million in launches
The first 1600 satellites would be able to provide profitable premium data connections between New York, London, Dubai, Tokyo, Shanghai and other financial centers.
The top ten financial cities could spend $2 billion each per year for premium low latency connections. The next ten could spend $1 billion each per year. The connections would be two each of the other major financial centers.
From 2013-2018 over $500 million was spent over five years on microwave connections to reduce latency between New York and Chicago.
A 3-millisecond decrease in one-way communication time between the Chicago and New York areas was worth about $100 million per year. Chicago is the 17th ranked financial center.
It would take 60 launches of SpaceX Starship Super Heavy (aka BFS/ BFR) to launch about 12000 Starlink Satellites. Each Starship launch would deploy 240 Starlink satellites. If it costs $10 million to launch the SpaceX Starship, then it would cost $600 million to launch all the Starlink Satellite network. It would cost about $40 million for each partially reusable Falcon 9 launch for 20 Starlink Satellites per launch. This would mean 600 Falcon 9 launches at a cost of $24 billion. Completing the Starship Super Heavy would make deploying the Starlink Network 40 times cheaper.
It would only take seven launches of the Starship Super Heavy to deploy the first 1600 Starlink satellites.
This would be about $70 million in launch cost. $350 million for one Starship Super Heavy would be enough for the seven launches for 1600 initial Starlink network. The cost is less than the $3.2 billion to launch the first 1600 satellites using Falcon 9. $2 billion in development cost plus $350 million for one rocket and $70 million for seven launches. There are some estimates that mass production of small low earth orbit internet satellites could drop to $100,000 each. This would mean $160 million for all of the first satellites. Even at $400,000 each, the cost would be $640 million. $3 billion could get SpaceX the working Space Ship and the commercial viable phase 1 of the Starlink network.
The Commercially viable Starlink Network then starts generating $2 to 10 billion per year from premium low latency connections for the financial centers of the world.
Starship Super Heavy going to orbit should unlock more money from NASA and military and private investors. It should finally kill the SLS (Boeing Space Launch System) and hopefully free up $4 billion per year.
It is clear why the Starship Super Heavy is the key to enabling massive profit margins and low-cost launch of the Starlink Network.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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