Several Supplemental Surprises Surround SpaceX’s Spectacular Summer Sunday Splashdown
NOTE: If you intend to read the headline of this article out loud to a live audience, practice in front of a mirror first. Trust us on this one.
Last Sunday NASA, SpaceX, and SpaceX shareholders collectively exhaled in relief just before 3 PM Eastern Time when the company’s Crew Dragon Endeavor dropped into the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Florida. The site had been chosen in favor of others, some off the state’s eastern coast, avoiding the complications that Tropical Storm Isaias would likely have presented. For NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, it was the first time in 63 days that the men were on this planet. For SpaceX, an extremely important mission that had commenced in late May met its successful completion. Prior to this journey, NASA hadn’t sent astronauts into space from American soil since it terminated its shuttle program in 2011. As a collaboration between NASA and SpaceX, the project marks the first time a privately-owned craft has ferried human beings into orbit. This had been SpaceX’s primary goal since its founding in 2002. While you were sunning yourself at the beach, Behnken and Hurley took up residence aboard the International Space Station. This matters deeply: a continued American presence aboard the ISS is crucial as it allows our scientists to conduct important studies in human research, space medicine, life sciences, physical sciences, astronomy, and meteorology in the unique low Earth orbit environment. Among complicated budgetary considerations, concern had been growing that the United States would soon be underrepresented on the ISS. Until recently, our people have had to hitch a ride with Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft at a cost to NASA of up to $90 million a seat. For this reason, NASA had established a call for an unprecedented partnership with a private enterprise, and it was SpaceX that came through.
There’s a very good chance that you had been aware of the landing by the time you sat down for your Sunday dinner. Apart from representing a welcome relief from the headlines about pandemic woes and civil unrest by reminding us of the redemption that can be found within mankind’s stunning achievements, the splashdown marked a significant milestone for space exploration technology, ushering in the dawn of a new era. The last time a crewed capsule landed in American water, observers might have feared that the occupants were in danger of a shark attack: it was the summer of 1975, a time when the film Jaws dominated our national consciousness. Today, though, our thoughts are steered in a more optimistic direction. The successful round trip, and the firm plans to conduct more in the near future, breathe new life into an American space program that needed a boost.
SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk of Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) fame. Say what you will about this sometimes controversial figure, but one thing is certain: he will forever be recognized as one of the world’s greatest innovators, shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Edison, Gates, Da Vinci, and the Wright Brothers. Musk has a tendency to set the bar very high, clear the hurdle with ease, establish even loftier goals, and repeat. He eats skeptics for lunch. Another of his hallmark attributes is his habit of accomplishing an astounding feat, and then following it up with a series of other triumphs while the audience remains awestruck. Recent events for SpaceX are not an exception. Yesterday, even as Endeavor had barely had the chance to dry off, a launch of the company’s Starship prototype advanced SpaceX’s Mars efforts further. The Starship system, which will eventually consist of 1,000 crafts that are suited for deep-space travel, is Musk’s vision of how he plans to send Earthlings to the Red Planet. The Starship units will be reusable, naturally, and they will provide seating for 100 passengers. Musk’s intention is to schedule three daily flights when Starship is ready for action. If all goes according to plan, you can assume that Disney Resorts and Starbucks will be looking into opening their very first interplanetary locations.
The launch was a small but precisely calculated step toward Musk’s dead-serious plan to establish humanity as a species that dwells on more than one planet. The prototype doesn’t look like the rockets we’re used to; it has more of a purely cylindrical look (see for yourself here). The objective was to determine if the single Raptor engine could lift the craft, laden with a weight to simulate Starship’s payload, and then land upright. The test succeeded. The trip this time rose to an altitude of only 500 feet — far from entering orbit — but it was necessary to accomplish this basic maneuver before reaching higher. You can expect a steep acceleration in the progress toward Mars in the next decade or so. Bear in mind Musk’s record of making his own bold predictions come true when you recall that earlier this year he announced that he would have a civilization of about 1,000,000 former Earth residents calling Mars home by 2050. At first, 2050 may sound like the distant future, but it’s only 30 years. To put it in perspective, look in the other direction. 30 years ago, you probably had never met anybody who had a personal email address.
As if it weren’t enough to have so much going on with Endeavor and Starship, SpaceX continues to aggressively advance its lucrative Starlink program. The communications satellite launching effort has already been granted approval to deploy 12,000 of the million-dollar units (it has launched about 600 so far), and SpaceX has asked the Federal Communications Commission for the green light to send an additional 30,000 satellites. So how well would a total of 42,000 Starlink satellites serve American internet needs? According to Musk, 400 Starlink satellites would provide “minor” coverage in North America and 800 for “moderate” coverage. The full rack of 42,000 could provide high-speed broadband, with an estimated latency of less than 50 milliseconds, to every part of the globe. The equation is not yet complete, though. In order for the satellites to deliver signals, end user terminals must be installed here on terra firma. These devices are basically small receiving dishes (affectionately compared to a “UFO on a stick”) that automatically swivel to face the orbiting transmitters. Last March, SpaceX was given the go-ahead to operate one million terminals. When SpaceX took a soft poll to gauge interest, though, the need for more leeway became clear. Even without formal advertisement for the service, more than 700,000 people across the 50 states expressed interest in getting their hands on a receiver in a matter of days. In response, SpaceX asked the FCC to up the limit to 5,000,000 from 1,000,000. Should this expansion be allowed, the revenue brought forth from such widespread coverage would be mindboggling, yet we get the sense that it would only be the beginning.
For those of us who write newsletters about exciting developments inside privately held companies, SpaceX is providing much material. Understandably, Iron Edge VC has been fielding many requests for this one. Supply is rather scarce amidst all of the buzz, but we have conducted some great transactions in SpaceX and we expect many more after things (including a funding round expected to be completed in the coming days) settle down. Nobody can presently purchase SpaceX shares on the stock market, but we can help you secure your piece before the price rises at the hands of public market participants. If you would like to learn more, or if you know of anybody else who would, do not hesitate to contact us.
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