People wonder if SpaceX will have its first manned mission on Mars within ten years. I think this is skipping over the critical point when Elon Musk’s Mars Plans will become inevitable.
Elon Musk will not change his mind about his Mars plans. I think the expensive plans become inevitable when SpaceX has reached financial escape velocity. If Elon Musk and SpaceX are certain to be funded then the Mars plans become inevitable.
If the US government and NASA decided to provide funding of $200 billion at $10 billion per year for twenty, then the Mars Plans would become fairly secure. However, government funding plans can change. Mars funding would be more secure if the money was within the control of Elon Musk.
If SpaceX is making $50 billion per year revenue and making $10 billion in profits, then Elon Musk would be able to self-fund the technological development of new rockets and the Mars missions. The Starlink satellites will give the revenue that Elon Musk will be able to control to fund all of the Mars missions.
Currently, SpaceX is making about $2.5 billion per year in revenue. SpaceX will have over 60% of the commercial launch market. SpaceX will get more profitable crewed launches and military, but SpaceX will not be able to generate the money for the Mars plans from launches alone.
SpaceX is raising $507 million to fund initial deployment of the Starlink Satellites. The first 800 could be deployed with about forty Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. 800 Starlink satellites would be enough for an initial system.
There are still many huge technical challenges to get the Starlink Satellites to work. In June, Elon Musk fired or forced out at least seven managers in Starlink development in order to speed up development and testing of satellites that could provide broadband around the world. One manager wanted three more iterations of test satellites. Elon thinks Starlink can work by mid-2019 with cheaper and simpler satellites.
The use of free-space laser links between satellites is relatively unknown technology. The European Space Agency demonstrated that it was possible, but SpaceX will need to track more targets simultaneously and achieve higher data rates.
Their use of phased array wireless links to steer narrow beams to and from the satellites will be pushing the limits of what has been done.
The entire satellite network will have to be replaced every five years.
Going through another iteration or two of satellites that show the free-space laser problems and phase array wireless links will work as planned will give investors confidence.
I think the prototypes prove the open technological questions are answered will be working by the of 2019. There will be over 200 production satellites by the end of 2021.
The Starlink communication satellites will take up many orbital locations. This is a first mover advantage.
Another first mover advantage is that any satellite company behind Elon Musk will not only have to catch up technologically and will have trouble fundraising. Elon can fundraise without established low earth orbit competitors. Starlink at 200 satellites would show that any latecomers would have to outcompete SpaceX.
By the end of 2022, Elon and SpaceX will have proved that the technology will work and then more fundraising will be easy to finish Starlink.
Relatively Near Term Starlink Revenue Potential
I have calculated that the SpaceX plans for the Starlink communication satellites will have the markets for $50 billion per year in revenue.
New York and Chicago have paid $100 million per year to put a premium microwave data connection between the two cities. This shaves 5% of the latency time from pricing updates and order placement. This has a lot of value when big stocks have rapid price movements.
There would be 190 combinations of pairs of the top 20 financial cities. There are 435 combinations of pairs of the top 30 financial cities. If the top $100 million per year was paid by the top 20 cities, then this would be $19 billion per year. If the premium internet pairing for the connections to 21 to 30 was worth $10 million per year then this would be another $2.45 billion per year. Even with a half-price discount, the total would still be $10 billion per year.
The SpaceX Starlinks could save 30-50% of the latency time. This is because the speed of light is almost twice as fast in space as it is in a glass fiber. The value for the Starlink financial latency reduction should be even higher. Let us say it is double the New York to Chicago price. This means the premium pairing of cities is worth over $40 billion per year.
SpaceX Starlink network will make money by helping improve the entire global internet. They will be able to provide a high bandwidth alternative to fiber. 90 percent of all internet traffic travels over wireline fiber, even if it ultimately goes on a wireless device. It has been estimated that deploying 5G wireless speeds 10 to 100 times faster than 4G will cost $130 to $150 billion in fiber optic cabling alone over the next 5 to 7 years.
Starlink Will Be Showing it Will Clearly Work Before it is Activated as a Service
I believe the key question is determining “When does the Starlink Satellite network become financially inevitable.”
The potential revenue and the market for the Starlink satellites are not understood by most people.
I believe the point where the Starlink satellite network reaches financial inevitability is at a far earlier point than the full deployment of even the first full phase with 4425 satellites.