SpaceX president honors Starship's game-changing Starlink launch capabilities

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell teased new information describing the benefits that the next generation Starship launch vehicle can provide for deploying the company's Starlink Internet satellite constellation.

In a speech at the Baron 2019 Investment Conference October 25, SpaceX's exercise touched on a wide range of topics according to CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz. Baron broadcast the webcast of most of the conference's most important events, all but Shotwells have been archived, but it looks like CNBC may have been the only media outlet to have access in an official capacity.

Regardless, based on their reporting of Shotwell's dialogue with Baron Fund CEO / CIO Ron Baron, SpaceX executives were outstandingly honest and were more than happy to speak directly to criticism of competitors such as OneWeb, ULA and Blue Origin.

Beyond Shotwell's clear confidence that Starlin's satellite technology is far beyond OneWeb and years ahead of Amazon's Project Kuiper clone, she also touched on another strength: SpaceX's very own vertically integrated launch systems. OneWeb plans to launch the vast majority of its Phase 1 constellation on Arianspace's commercial Soyuz rockets, with the launch agreement alone expected to cost more than $ 1B for ~ 700 satellites.

SpaceX, on the other hand, owns, builds and operates its own rocket plant and high-performance orbital wagons, and is the only company on earth to succeed in fielding reusable rockets. In short, although Starlin's glaring need for launch capabilities will undoubtedly require some major direct investment, a large portion of SpaceX's Starlink launch costs can be perceived as little more than the cost of fuel, labor and recovery fleet operations. Boosters (and hopefully fairings) can be reused ad nauseum and as long as SpaceX sticks to its promise to put customer missions first, the practical opportunity costs for each Starlink launch should be close to zero.

A perfect scenario, the only material cost of Starlink launches should be the satellites themselves and each expandable Falcon upper stage, which SpaceX has no plans to restore. In a speech before Starlink's 60 satellite "v0.9" launch debut, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk stated that each prototype spacecraft ended up costing more to launch than building, despite their first launch flying on a two times the Falcon 9 booster flowed.

In fewer words, Musk suggested that each Starlink satellite probably already costs significantly less than $ 500,000, even before SpaceX has begun to reap the full benefits of economies of scale. Based on official figures from 2016 that estimated the cost of each BFR booster / ship to under $ 4M and Musk's estimate that Starship could reduce Starlink launch costs by a factor of 5, Starlink v0.9 production costs could actually have been as low as $ 350,000 apiece, with launch costs in the range of ~ $ 20 M.

Speaking just over five months after Musk, Shotwell revealed that a single Starship-Super Heavy launch should be able to place at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit – a combined payload of ~ 120 metric tons (265,000 lb). Although the costs of a Starship launch remained identical to Starlink v0.9's flight tested Falcon 9, packing nearly seven times as many Starlink satellites on its own would cut the relative cost of launch per satellite by more than the 5X Musk noticed. [19659003] In light of this new figure of 400 satellites per individual Starship launch, it is far easier to understand why SpaceX took the otherwise ridiculous step of reserving space for tens of thousands of more Starlink satellites. Although SpaceX comes to a worst-case scenario and is only able to launch Starship-Super Heavy once every 4-8 weeks for the first several years, this could translate to 2400-4800 Starlink satellites orbiting every year . Given that 120 tonnes to LEO are well within Starship's theoretical capabilities without orbit transfer, it is quite possible that Starship could surpass Falcon 9's Starlink mass-to-orbit almost immediately after completing its first orbit and recovery: a single Starship launch is equivalent to nearly 7 Falcon 9 missions.

Starship lifts a massive Super Heavy booster, with six landing legs and up to 37 Raptor engines. (SpaceX)

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