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Elon Musk set to be world’s first trillionaire thanks to Starlink


Elon Musk now controls more than a third of all active satellites in orbit (Credits: REUTERS)

Elon Musk is using SpaceX’s experience in building rockets and spacecraft to deploy the world’s most advanced broadband internet system — Starlink. 

On Thursday last week, SpaceX launched 48 Starlink satellites into orbit off the coast of Florida. 

This marked the 27th successful launch for Musk’s company in 2021.

Musk now controls more than a third of all active satellites in orbit as SpaceX breaks its own record for the number of rocket launches in a calendar year.

According to an October report by Morgan Stanley, Starlink might make the world’s richest man even richer. The report valued SpaceX at $100 billion, mainly driven by innovations within Starlink.

‘We have long seen SpaceX as multiple companies in one but the largest contributor to our estimated $100 billion base case valuation for the company ($200 billion bull case) is the Starlink LEO sat comms business which has had a number of important milestones in recent months,’ said the report.

What is Starlink?

Starlink provides high-speed broadband internet across the globe. 

‘Using advanced satellites in a low orbit, Starlink enables video calls, online gaming, streaming, and other high data rate activities that historically have not been possible with satellite internet,’ says the Starlink website.

Starlink users can expect to see download speeds between 100 Mb/s and 200 Mb/s and latency as low as 20ms in most locations.

A live satellite orbit visualisation captured on December 1 2021. Credit: CelesTrak

The Starlink satellites are typically launched in ‘constellations’ of 50 – 60 and have previously prompted UFO reports due to the unusual string-like formation.

These ‘constellations’ of satellites are placed into low orbits around the Earth via SpaceX rockets.

As the world’s only provider with an orbital class reusable rocket, SpaceX has deep experience with both spacecraft and on-orbit operations.

Morgan Stanley believe the ‘symbiotic’ relationship between SpaceX rockets and Starlink satellites, is what will eventually make Musk a trillionaire.

As SpaceX rockets become more sophisticated, they can handle larger and more frequent payloads of Starlink satellites and Starlink satellites gain more customers around the globe, it feeds cash back into the SpaceX rocket programs.

SpaceX also enjoys the support and funding of NASA to send a significant number of satellites up into space and create its own presence in low Earth orbit. 

Starlink now has more than 1,700 internet-beaming satellites orbiting the Earth, according to Florida Today.

People can preorder the Starlink Kits that include a terminal (used to connect to the satellite providing internet) that they would set up themselves in their homes. The Starlink Kit costs $499, and the internet service would cost $99 per month.

While it actually costs SpaceX over $2,000 per terminal, the company hopes to scale up and eventually bring terminal costs down to $250 for consumers, Morgan Stanley says.

Musk’s Starlink network would provide ‘near global coverage of the populated wold’ but is mostly aimed at rural and isolated regions.

Much of the world is still lacks broadband internet with only 72% of American adults in rural areas having a broadband connection at home, according to February 2021 data from Pew Research Center

Older people, racial minorities and ‘those with lower levels of education and income’ are also less likely to have broadband service at home, said the report.

SpaceX’s existing rocket technology makes shooting satellites into space a quicker way to bring internet connectivity to people in rural areas, given the high cost of deploying fibre infrastructure, according to CNET.

The revenue brought in from Starlink can help ‘the company attract large amounts of capital at attractive rates,’ says the Morgan Stanley report. This could fund further development of more complex launches, such as Starship, a rocket that Musk says could eventually take people to Mars.

SpaceX has filed paperwork to create a 42,000-strong constellation of satellites of which there are now more than 1,750 active Starlink satellites in orbit. Up to five more SpaceX launches are planned before the end of the year, with the next one scheduled for December 9.

SpaceX beat Bezos’ Blue Origin to secure a multi-billion deal with Nasa earlier this year. Musk first overtook Bezos as the world’s richest person in January 2021.

SpaceX currently makes up less than 17% of Musk’s net worth, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, but it might just make him a trillionaire in the coming years.


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