Elon Musk recently reclaimed the title of the world’s richest person thanks to Tesla shares surging this year. But a spinoff and IPO of Starlink, the satellite-broadband unit of his private space business SpaceX, would make him substantially wealthier—and it may happen sooner than some people think.
In January, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya predicted that a Starlink IPO would happen this year—saying it’d be the biggest deal of 2023. He added that Starlink’s valuation “will be at least half of SpaceX’s current private worth.”
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that SpaceX was seeking to boost its valuation to $150 billion by letting employees sell stock. (The company raised $750 million at a $137 billion valuation in January.) A trust associated with Musk owns 42% of SpaceX, the Journal reported last December.
“It would not be legal for me to speculate about a Starlink IPO,” Musk said Saturday when asked about it by Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance in a Twitter Spaces talk. Then he broke out laughing.
Vance—who wrote a 2017 book about Musk and another one this year about the space industry—noted that SpaceX is private and wondered why Musk couldn’t discuss the matter.
“We’re private, but you cannot—it’s I think against regulations to talk with any kind of specifics about a future public offering,” the SpaceX CEO replied.
Starlink had more than 1.5 million customers as of early May and is the primary driver of SpaceX’s valuation.
“This year, Starlink will make money. We actually had a cash flow positive quarter last year,” SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in February.
The Starlink network is designed to deliver high-speed internet anywhere on the planet via thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit. Vance said he sometimes questions whether the Starlink business case makes sense given the “incredible amount of money” spent on something that “may or may not work” and asked Musk if he also had doubts.
“The business case is not subjective, it is objective,” Musk replied. “If you can provide a compelling internet connection, where the quality of the product and the price are competitive with terrestrial options—or often there are simply no terrestrial options—then you obviously have a business. So it’s not super complicated, it’s just, how good is you internet and what’s the cost.”
Musk also said that SpaceX has made well over 1,000 changes to the Mars-focused Starship, which exploded and failed to reach orbit in April during its first test launch. “The probability of the next flight working—or getting to orbit—is much higher than the last one,” he said. “Maybe it’s like 60%.”