SpaceX Board Member and Nextbigfuture Agree SpaceX Will Take Over Air Cargo Within Ten Years

A SpaceX board member discusses the SpaceX Starship launch on the All in Podcast. Antonio Gracias is the Founder, Managing Partner, and Chief Investment Officer of Valor Equity Partners. Antonio founded Valor in 2001. He has over twenty years of experience in private equity investing. Antonio currently serves as Lead Independent Director at Tesla Motors and is a director of several Valor portfolio companies, including Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Marathon Pharmaceuticals, Solar City, and

Antonio’s net worth is in the $700 million to $1 billion range.

Antonio discusses that once SpaceX uses Starship to master orbital delivery then there will be rapid transport around the earth. There will be no more trans-pacific or transatlantic cargo flights. He thinks in five to ten years and with a big Starship Fleet then this will take over trans-pacific or transatlantic cargo flights.

Antonio’s statement agrees with my prediction (Brian Wang of Nextbigfuture) that SpaceX will take over Air Cargo.

Here are several videos where I describe how the Mechazilla launch tower is critical so that SpaceX can launch cargo many times each day.

The rockets will be 20 times faster and 20 times cheaper than cargo planes.

Two years ago, SpaceX got military contracts to develop the one hour anywhere on earth rocket delivery of cargo.

Over two years ago (before the first military contract), Brian Wang at Nextbigfuture said SpaceX would replace cargo planes.

SpaceX Starships will cost over ten times less than current cargo planes, have over twice the range and will be thirty times faster. These massive advantages will give SpaceX dominance of the cargo business.

The global cargo airline industry generated revenue streams of $117.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2020 and is projected to make $140 billion in 2021.

The commercial rocket launch market is about $10 billion each year.

SpaceX will be able to make ten times more from point-to-point cargo delivery on Earth than from the space launch industry.

SpaceX will create a new category of rocket air delivery for same-day international deliveries and four to six-hour delivery between continents or from east coast to west coast.

The rocket cargo delivery business will be comparable to the eventual global Starlink internet revenue.

Air cargo will be a training area where SpaceX will master volume operations and improve operational safety. Eventually, SpaceX will achieve the safety needed to move people. They will prove safety by safely flying a few thousand cargo Starships hundreds of times a year.

In a normal year, commercial passenger air travel is a $600 billion-a-year business.

If SpaceX captures global internet, global cargo and global passenger air travel then they will have a trillion dollars per year in revenue.

Over two year ago, I had pricing, market size and timing estimates.

Costs Will Be Over Twenty Times Less With More Range, Capacity and Speed

The estimated salary, benefits and overhead for 3000 SpaceX employees is about $600 million per year. This is with an estimated an average annual cost $200,000 for each SpaceX employee. SpaceX will have a run rate of building 100 Starship built each year and 25 Super Heavy Boosters by the end of 2021. Each Starship would have about $3 million in labor and each Super Heavy booster would have about $12 million in labor.

The steel is about $4 per kilogram. The dry mass of the Starship will be about 120 tons and the Super Heavy Booster will be about 300 tons. This would be $0.48 million for the Starship if most of the material was the steel alloy. The Super Heavy would be $1.2 million of steel.

If the steel and salaries are half of the total cost of the rockets then the unit costs at different production levels would be:

Two Starships per week would mean $10.4 million per Starship
25 Super Heavy Boosters per year would mean $36 million SH booster

Reaching a Starship cost of $3.2 million would require 3000 employees to build about 220 Starships every year. This would be $1.3 million in labor, $0.5 million in material and $1.3 million for other costs.

Airbus and Boeing were making 800-900 Planes in normal years. Boeing was making sixty 737s per month and the starting price is $90 million each. Boeing can make ten 787s per month at a cost of $300-400 million each. Airbus has similar costs and production rates.

A Boeing 737-200 in cargo configuration can move 15 tons of cargo and costs $120 million. The range is 1500-3800 nautical miles. It has a speed of about 460 miles per hour.
A Boeing 767-300 in cargo configuration can move 56 tons of cargo and costs $220 million. The range is up to 3,765 nautical miles and the speed is 530 miles per hour.
A Mass Produced SpaceX Starship will have 80-120 tons of cargo capacity and cost $5-20 million each. The range is up to 7000 nautical miles and speed will be up to 20,000 miles per hour.

42 thoughts on “SpaceX Board Member and Nextbigfuture Agree SpaceX Will Take Over Air Cargo Within Ten Years”

  1. If experimental, it’s maybe called rocket with wings and supports higher off ground mounted side boosters utilizing “Synergetic Air Breathing Rocket Engine”

    What amount of (head-on area) air intake do Raptor engines on Super Heavy “Air2LOx” tolerate?

  2. No way. Real economics and environmental concerns will grind down this effort.

    But a better launch system instead of a tower would be a massive steel flying boat or WIG to get speed and altitude and even allow an abort with no noise issue minimal safety concern.

  3. So airlines & freight companies will simply buy starships. Also Starship knockoffs will come within 10 years.

    In terms of human air travel I seriously wonder about the belly flop. For youngsters it may be a plus but at 54 I would rather not thanks.

  4. It will happen slowly and then suddenly, like most disruptions.

    Many good issues that will need to be resolved have been listed in the comments. Noise is probably the hardest one, because it has to be addressed locality by locality, not on a an international scale like overflights need to be.

    Starship just demonstrated that building reusable infrastructure will be more expensive than believed a few months ago. Of course, someone else may find a cheaper solution as we move into commercial rocketry.

    To say there is no market for 24H world wide delivery is short sighted. There was no market for expensive steam ships over sailing ships, until suddenly there was – and even there the sailing ships found niches to compete for over a century.
    I think a better question is what is the MINIMUM distance where Starship is commercially advantageous over an airplane? There are a lot of short haul air cargo trips; assuming LA to NYC is profitable does not mean that Minneapolis to Chicago must be.

    • Nobody said there is no market for under 24H world wide delivery, only that its small.
      The main delay is the wait for the next flight and using multiple flights to reach from each point to each point.

      For example as a Tel-Aviv based company we use FDEX to send our products to our world wide Tier-1 clients. From Tel-Aviv FDEX has only one flight per working day, and it goes only to their Munich hub. From there it takes additional flight to a hub near the costumer and usually a 3rd flight to the closest FDEX airport to the client.
      FDEX can technically do multiple flights per day and to additional regional hubs (Asia, North-America) cutting the total time from when the requirement for a fast transport rises to delivery to the costumer. However there isn’t enough demand to make it economical.

      Replacing planes from regular airports with rockets from deep sea launch pad will cut only a few hours from the total time.

      Maybe there is a market for a small rocket that can be sent on demand with a single costumer packet, to a landing pad near the end address. But this can’t be done with the giant Starship.

  5. Sheer fantasy- reminds me of the cargo carrying airships concept that surfaces every so often. The devastating aftermath of the first test on the launch pad shows the energy expended if anything goes wrong.

  6. Hi Brian
    The propellant masses required per launch, as well as the LN2 for chilling down the other cryogens, might be worth elaborating on, as well as the solar farm needed to make a high cadence launch rate carbon neutral. Otherwise the critics will get more air-time than the, ahem, boosters.

    • Fuel costs and Fuel availability loading were my questions also. Each launch site would probably require an air separation plant as well as a small plant to produce methane (from a natural gas pipeline) to produce the Liquid Oxygen, Liquid Nitrogen, and methane necessary for multiple launches per day.

  7. Packing and stress requirements for the cargo might make that a tad difficult. Your iPhone might be rated for 3g’s but the packaging sure isn’t.

    • I honestly don’t think cushioned cargo containers custom manufactured for Starship will be that expensive nor difficult to design.

  8. The only way this could work at scale is if the launch and catch sites are 50-100 km’s off shore
    That adds considerably to costs.

    Not impossible. But environmentally
    There will be a lot of hurdles

    • I could see transportation hubs being built 60-100 miles outside of urban centers / manufacturing bases. The deserts around Los Angeles, the prairies around Dallas/Fort Worth, the swamps around NYC, the short woods around Chicago, etc.

  9. I am so glad that you have managed to contact and even agree with a SpaceX board member. It shows how committed and cunning you are. I predict that one day the Musk will hear about you and maybe even mention you in one of his X tweets. Good job!

  10. Not gonna happen with current tech, like others are saying – noise, weather, risk of explosions. For us – early 2020’s humans – Starship may be advanced and impressive, but if you think bigger it’s not that advanced tech. We need to progress way more.

    Maybe next gen of Starship 2.0. or 3.0 (not iteration but completely new design) will do the job. Those ships probably won’t be even rockets, will have completely different design. Will launch and land similar to planes, but will be easily, fast and cheaply produced.

    We need new gen of engines/propulsion tech.

    Our tech is primitive, we’re inflant civ, we’re barely starting. In 2030 we will order/s of magnitude more advanced. Starship and current Starship tech/design will be ancient by then.

    • I am pretty sure people laughed at Elon – saying reusable rockets are impossible, mass produced electric vehicles are impossible. The tech just isn’t there, stupid to try they told him.

      I think reusable 100 ton cargo rockets are viable, proven out this next year by Starship/Superheavy.

      Then comes the next step – putting the infrastructure into place. Just as Tesla needed superchargers put in by the 10,000s to make electric vehicles attractive, Cargo Rockets will need 100s of launch/land transportation hubs erected. Take 10 years to get the first 20 built, 20 years to get into the 100s of sites.

  11. Well … then there’s the Elephant in the Living Room:


    Not to put too fine of a point on it, but moving to a world of hourly rockets from perhaps hundreds of worldwide shipping ports, 365 days a year means millions of tons of CO2 and H2O methane-burn byproducts being injected to both the lower and higher atmospheres. Stratosphere and beyond.

    Now, let us recall that when the out-of-the-blue South Pacific volcano blew its top a couple of years ago in the ‘most significant eruption since Krakatoa’ as many reporters dutifully quipped, it wasn’t too long before the climatologists were seeing the stratospheric plume of H2O as potentially being a significant contributor to long-term global warming, water vapor being such an efficient blanket gas.

    So I ask, what of this, in the context of hundreds of thousands of rocket shots a year going down? Of course it isn’t in the interest of the rah-rah team(s) to notice the little turds in the punch bowl. But there they are. Turds.

    Color me purple and call me an eggplant … but I’ll be equally purple with surprise should the environmentalists fail to wake up and forget to bytch about this new polluter.

    And while we’re on direct-exhaust pollution effects, there is


    Because, no matter how you couch the position, rockets are ridiculously noisy. They’re noisy beyond compare if you’re within a few miles. They’re noisy beyond what you imagine possible if they’re even 25 miles away. Noise is the direct byproduct of their way-of-flying, so cannot be masked insofar as we know.

    Then there is

    FAILED TO MAKE IT pollution

    You know, ‘something happens’ and the rocket doesn’t quite make it to ballistic semi-orbit. The big old tube of packages and guts comes falling out of the sky. Already such failures for air-breathing airplanes is spectacular stuff, making front-page news. What of the rockets red glare as they come tumbling out of the sky?

    And then there is

    TERRORISM repurposing

    You can fill in the dots there. An intentionally sub-orbital ‘planned failure’ with failsafe blocking is … demented, but quite worrisome. Sure, encryption and all that all-but-certainly prevents most garage genius hacks. One hopes. But people are getting more sophisticated all the time. Or … the payload could be a bomb. A big one. Then there is no difference between a delivery rocket and an ICBM. Oh, joy. Same goes for OVERFLIGHTS. Y’all think China, Russia, and anyone else not involved in the monetary-rewards path are going to regard overflights with fondness?

    Anyway… others have said more and similar things. I just think these are the show stoppers.

  12. What portion of aviation costs are due to regulations?

    Why will rockets get to dodge regulatory costs?

    How much harder is it to do 10, 100, 1000 launches per day from a site in 95% of weather conditions vs today doing <0.1 launches per day per site, and only during the 5% best weather conditions?

    How much harder is it to land fully laden with cargo vs landing empty today?

    The fuel doesn't seem like a problem. We already make effectively unlimited quantities of LNG and Liquid Oxygen at low cost. Liquid methane exports from the US kept European lights on after Russia stopped gas supply. Biomethane can be bought for the right price.

    • The last launch had the rocket flipping end over end & not breaking up from the aerodynamic and centripetal forces I’d say that’s proof it can take at least tolerate higher winds & more weather than other rockets.

  13. It will never happen
    1. There is almost no requirement for under 24H world delivery
    2. Most of the delivery time is waiting to the next flight, especially since most deliveries doesn’t have multiple flights per day direct link, and most without a direct link all together.
    3. Noise and risk will limit the possible rocket launch sites
    4. A rocket can’t do rounds waiting for a landing pad clearing. You must have the landing pad ready before launching the rocket. At best each launch pad can do 2 to 3 launches per day (assuming 6 hour turn around).
    5. A large terminal will need tens of launch pads 100s of meters apart from each other.

  14. Not going to happen for the very simple reason that there’s not going to be many places that will allow 200+dB launches at the frequency needed for air cargo, while still being close enough to population for it to make sense to ship there. It’s going to be one of the major hurdles Space X will need to take when they actually start doing the dozens to hundreds of launches for a month every two years to supply the Mars colony. Currently, a rocket launch is cool. When they’re as frequent as planes taking off…

  15. The business case for Starship superiority over the Boeing 737 does not address a few points, including:

    1. Fuel. Starship is going to use vastly more volume/weight of fuel (just look at the size of the Starship stack) vs. 737, and the Starship fuel (liquid oxygen and methane) will be vastly more expensive than jet fuel.

    2. Sunk costs. These costs need to be recovered or the costs for new capital will increase dramatically. The cited cost of $120 million for the 737-cargo includes all costs (including recovery of sunk costs, R&D, overhead, administration, the works), while the estimated cost of $46.4 million for a Starship stack seems to based on speculation of the amount of “all costs.”

    3. The ground crew and flight crew needed to operate a 737 is, most likely, much less than needed to operate an uncrewed Starship.

    4. The estimated Starship payload of 80-120 tons might be conflating payload to orbit vs. payload “landed” at some distant location. It is going to take a lot of fuel to land a Starship with 80-120 tons of payload on board. In addition, a first stage booster will have to be transported (or built) at the location where the Starship lands, or the Starship ain’t coming back.

    5. A 737 can travel to thousands of airfields worldwide. The Starship currently has two spaceport locations, one in Florida and the other in Texas. In order for the point-to-point business plan for the Starship to work, many more Starship spaceports will need to be built, each with significant and very costly infrastructure to maintain, fuel, launch, and land Starships, not to mention the associated ground-based transportation/logistics infrastructure that will be need to move the cargo to/from spaceports. Nobody is going to finance this infrastructure (which is a sunk cost) unless the sunk cost can be recovered (see Point #2 above). In any event, freighter aircraft will be able to go to many more airfields than Starships can go to spaceports for the foreseeable future.

    6. The Starship uses liquid methane – a fossil fuel. The commercial aviation industry is committed to a net-zero carbon future, especially in Europe. The Starship business plan for point-to-point transportation does not seem feasible for a low carbon / no carbon future (unless an economically viable source of “green” methane can be found).

    That said, I hope that Next Big Future’s vision of Starship point-to-point transposition is realized.

    • Further, I think noise is a problematic factor in most places in the world. I just can imagine how loud a starting/landing Starship is.

      • Elon could just surround the launch pad with a concrete wall. Even a 1km dia x 500m high wall would be cheaply quickly and easily built and solve the sound problem. Or launch from a pit.

    • All good stuff! But in case of
      Spacex sending my stuff everywhere “just the insurance
      Premiums i would be worried about”…Lol

  16. I’m all for the Starship program for space. When it comes to comparing them with air transport let’s see which can do the job and release the least amount of CO2 & other harmful greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.

    • Starship will do it with single stage. Everything fully reusable. No stage separation. Falcon requires two stages and the payload. Throw away second stage every flight. About ten million dollars. It would be tough to recover payload faring. Another $6 million.

      • It can’t work. World isn’t suddenly going to allow overnight package delivery worldwide via ICBM. There’s not enough market for such deliveries, not enough launch+landing points, not enough risk mitigation. Failure modes would be catastrophic.

        • Nations already schedule civilian ships, planes and rockets to avoid military responses.🙄

          This isn’t happening overnight, but over many years.

          • We’re talking about ICBMs here. Nobody’s going to see the benefits as outweighing the risks. As I’ve said, failure modes would be catastrophic. Starship is designed to go to Mars. It’s not tailored for Earth P2P in particular, otherwise it would have wings like Shuttle had, instead of flaps.

      • Planes can be reused thousands of times. At best these will be 100’s of times. That’s a 10x cost difference right there.

        You didn’t think about this for very long.

        The list of problems is as long as your arm.

  17. All I see SuperHeavy doing is fabulous work for the Boring Company.

    SLS rocks
    Starship blows chunks.

      • The last remaining SLS will be in a museum at Kennedy. Morgan Freeman will do a narration describing how morally superior government devoid of the profit motive created the heaviest launch system known to humanity.

  18. Plane is expensive mainly because of safety regulations. In ten years, electric UAV might drastically drop air cargo transport cost. SpaceX still have chance to dominate long range transportation.

    • If starship ends up cheaper than air cargo due to air regulations, you can ensure 1 of three things happening.

      1, air industry lobbying government to increase regulations on space transport.

      2, air industry lobbying leading to deregulation

      3, both 1&2

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