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Where Elan Musk has a virtual monopoly

BTW, Musk has kicked ass with Tesla, his home electric roof panels/battery systems, Space X, Starlink and drum roll...you really think he won't figure out Twitter and kick Zuckerberg's ass?


Mark is a complete POS and deserves to get schooled. That is unless you think Facebook and Instagram is good for kids?


Elon Musk’s SpaceX Now Has a ‘De Facto’ Monopoly on Rocket Launches

The company’s rockets are ferrying astronauts, launching satellites and dominating any competition


By Micah Maidenberg, WSJ

Updated July 7, 2023 12:35 am ET


Satellite operators and government agencies doing business in space are increasingly dependent on one company to help them reach orbit: Elon Musk’s SpaceX.


SpaceX has cornered much of the rocket-launch market, with a proven fleet of reusable rockets that can fly at a pace that rivals can’t match—and at lower prices. The company’s rockets powered 66% of customer flights from American launch sites in 2022, and handled 88% in the first six months of this year, according to launch data compiled by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks space activity.


That dominance is set to continue. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine put one alternative, the Russian Soyuz rocket, off limits for many launch buyers. Rival vehicles from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and the French launch company Arianespace haven’t flown yet.


And competitors are phasing out existing rockets as they transition to new ones. United Launch Alliance in June blasted off a government satellite on a Delta IV Heavy rocket, the second-to-last time it will use that vehicle. July 5 marked the final launch of Arianespace’s Ariane 5 rocket.


“The fact is that the competition can’t field anything right now and that makes SpaceX a de facto monopoly,” said John Holst, a former Air Force space operations officer who now writes a newsletter about the space industry.


SpaceX’s grip on the launch business means many government agencies and satellite operators must tether their ambitions to the company’s timetables and capabilities. Most launches ferry different kinds of satellites to orbit, where they do everything from provide internet service in remote areas to track weather and capture images of Earth. Some satellite-internet companies pay SpaceX to launch devices that help them compete with SpaceX’s own satellite-broadband service, Starlink.


SpaceX is also the only one ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Several years ago, SpaceX began handling U.S. national-security spaceflights, ending the virtual monopoly that United Launch Alliance previously held on them. SpaceX and ULA now both conduct those launches.


SpaceX’s dominance means a steady stream of revenue to support the Hawthorne, Calif.-based company’s ongoing programs, such as Starship, the massive new rocket SpaceX has been developing.


The company wants to use Starship, which exploded after four minutes during its inaugural test flight in April, for satellite launches, human missions and the trip to Mars that Musk has long envisioned.


“We don’t really think about the competition,” Musk, SpaceX’s chief executive, said recently during a space-focused chat on Twitter. A SpaceX spokesman didn’t respond to requests for comment.


Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 to pursue his ambition of one day transporting people to other planets. The company has shaken up the launch business since then by aggressively testing and making improvements to vehicles, and showing it can deftly operate its fleet of reusable rockets.


Demand for launches has been rising, spurred by government priorities and fresh bets from commercial-satellite operators. SpaceX’s powerful role in the industry is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Musk. He estimated during his recent Twitter chat about space that the company would account for about 80% of the mass blasted from Earth to orbit this year, assuming it didn’t have any launch failures.


The entrepreneur, who is also CEO at Tesla and owns Twitter, relies on longtime SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell to oversee SpaceX on a day-to-day basis. Its engineers are well-regarded in the industry.


Rocket launchers peddle their services to satellite companies and government agencies, often charging tens of millions of dollars to ferry satellites, scientific instruments and other payloads to orbit. The worldwide market for all rocket launches was estimated at around $8 billion in sales in 2022 and projected to grow to $13 billion by 2025, according to Deutsche Bank.


Through the first six months of the year, SpaceX has handled 21 flights for outside customers, or 64% of the worldwide total.




Those totals exclude SpaceX’s launches for its satellite-internet business, Starlink, which sells high-speed broadband connections powered by its fleet of satellites. Starlink, which has played a prominent role in providing internet links for Ukraine during its war with Russia, said in a tweet in May it had more than 1.5 million customers worldwide. The totals also don’t include rockets that are barred for many launch buyers due to sanctions or export controls, and when government agencies use their own rockets for their own missions.


SpaceX won more customers last year after sanctions stopped Western companies from using the Russian Soyuz rocket. France-based Arianespace had operated the vehicle from a South American launch site and through a joint venture from a site in Kazakhstan, but ceased those activities after the invasion of Ukraine.


Satellite-communications company OneWeb bought rides on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets, as well as from a division of India’s space agency, after losing access to Russia’s Soyuz. Last Saturday, SpaceX handled a flight for the European Space Agency that was originally planned for a Soyuz.


Rockets that have been in the works for years but haven’t yet launched include ULA’s Vulcan Centaur, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and Ariane 6, which ArianeGroup is developing and Arianespace will operate. Technical challenges, which are common during rocket development, have cropped up at times for all three.


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Each launcher has a busy schedule planned once the new rockets start flying, in part conducting dozens of launches between them for Amazon.com’s planned satellite fleet.


“We are, for the first time, really in the history of launch, in a situation where there is scarcity,” ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno said at an industry event in March, adding that for the last three decades there has been an oversupply in launch capacity. “This will persist for many years.”


And it is growing more expensive. SpaceX’s standard price for a Falcon 9 launch is $67 million. The company has charged $97 million a launch for the more powerful Falcon Heavy. SpaceX raised prices for both last year.


The company has said that rising costs also led it in 2022 to also boost prices for ride-share missions, in which multiple customers purchase rides for satellites on a single Falcon 9. SpaceX recently listed ride-share prices at $6,500 a kilogram for launches to what is called a sun-synchronous orbit, up from $5,000 a kilogram about two years ago.


Since January 2022 and the first half of this year, SpaceX has also conducted 56 launches for its Starlink business, 54% of its total. Rivals have noticed.


“It’s of course a very uncomfortable situation, where you have a supplier that wanted to go down the value chain and start competing with its own customers,” said Christian Patouraux, chief executive at Kacific, a satellite internet company focused on Asia and the Pacific region. SpaceX launched a satellite for Kacific in 2019.


Englewood, Colo.-based satellite internet company EchoStar hired SpaceX to blast into orbit EchoStar’s roughly nine-ton Jupiter 3 satellite, intended to give the company more broadband capacity for residential customers, businesses and other clients in the Americas. EchoStar has faced heightened competition from Starlink, executives at the company have said.


Paul Gaske, operations chief at EchoStar, said when the company settled on Jupiter 3’s design, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy was the only rocket ready to handle the flight on EchoStar’s preferred timetable.


“Really you have to be practical about what’s demonstrated and going,” Gaske said. SpaceX’s launch division has shown it has capacity and flexibility, setting it apart, he said.


Musk has said the company has launched satellites for competitors. He said if SpaceX had a goal of blocking rivals, it wouldn’t have done the launches for OneWeb. “We charged them the same as anyone else,” he said last month.


SpaceX executives have said the company plans to increase launches, this year aiming to conduct 100 flights, compared with 61 in 2022. Tom Ochinero, senior vice president for SpaceX’s commercial business, said at the March industry event that reaching 200 launches a year is possible.


“We have the hardware. We have the infrastructure. We can scale the staffing,” he said.


McKinsey consultants said a capacity crunch for larger rockets in the next few years also depends in part on SpaceX’s Starship. Air-safety regulators must sign off another Starship flight. It isn’t clear when the company may be able to launch the rocket again.


If Starship doesn’t ramp up as expected, there will likely be a shortage unless SpaceX allocates more of its Falcon fleet for customers instead of Starlink, they said in a report.


Payam Banazadeh, chief executive at Capella Space, a satellite company that uses specialized radar to capture imagery of Earth, said he wants more choices. The company has flown satellites with SpaceX and Rocket Lab.


“In the short term, we plan to continue with SpaceX and Rocket Lab until some of these new launch vehicles demonstrate reliability and repeatability,” he said.




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