Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink is on track to beam broadband internet everywhere in the world except the polar regions by August.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has launched more than 1,500 satellites so far and has Starlink operations in about a dozen countries, Musk said during a presentation at the Mobile World Congress conference on Tuesday. That’s costing a lot. SpaceX’s total investment in the network will be between $5 billion and $10 billion before cash flow is positive, he said.
Some $20 billion or $30 billion may be needed in the longer term to maintain Starlink’s competitive position, Musk added. The service, which has more than 69,000 active users, may reach half a million in the next 12 months, he said.
“Our goal is not to go bankrupt,” he joked, referencing the tumultuous history of the industry. “Step No. 1 for Starlink is don’t go bankrupt. If we succeed in not going bankrupt then that’ll be great and we can move on from there.”
SpaceX aims to offer broadband to as much as 5% of the world’s population where conventional fiber and wireless networks can’t reach. Musk said he’s signed two deals with “major country” telecom operators but he couldn’t name them yet, and he’s in discussions with more. Starlink will provide so-called “data back haul” spines for their networks. The satellite network currently moves about 30 terabits of data per second, and Musk said he’s targeting a user latency — or network response time — of less than 20 milliseconds.
Musk, who turned 50 on Monday, discussed several additional upgrades in the works during an update on the $74 billion SpaceX business.
The company is set to launch a new version of Starlink’s satellites next year that will have inter-satellite laser links to help them cover polar regions. Its engineers are developing a new ground terminal to stem losses: the dishes customers are currently installing on rooftops cost more than $1,000 to make but only retail for half that, he said.
SpaceX is also planning an orbital flight of its giant Starship rocket “in the next few months” he said.