SpaceX may spin off its massive internet-from-space initiative called Starlink into a separate business and take the company public, according to Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s president. Shotwell made the comments today at an event for private investors in Miami, Florida, Bloomberg reports.
“That particular piece is an element of the business that we are likely to spin out and go public,” Shotwell said, according to Bloomberg. “Right now, we are a private company, but Starlink is the right kind of business that we can go ahead and take public.”
Starlink is an ambitious proposal: a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites designed to beam down broadband internet coverage to every part of the globe. So far, SpaceX has launched 240 satellites for Starlink, making the company the operator of the largest active satellite constellation in the world. The company has plans to launch up to 24 missions this year, sending up 60 satellites per flight. Shotwell claimed last year that the company would start rolling out partial coverage with the constellation in 2020.
Pursuing an initial public offering for Starlink would be a big step for the Elon Musk-run SpaceX, which has remained private since it was founded in 2002. Musk, who notoriously hates publicly traded companies, has in the past said he wouldn’t take SpaceX public until the company’s Mars vehicle was complete. “Some at SpaceX who have not been through a public company experience may think that being public is desirable,” Musk wrote in an email to SpaceX employees in 2013. “This is not so. Public company stocks, particularly if big step changes in technology are involved, go through extreme volatility, both for reasons of internal execution and for reasons that have nothing to do with anything except the economy.”
The most recent valuation of SpaceX put the company at around $33.3 billion, according to CNBC. Most of SpaceX’s business has revolved around sending satellites or cargo into orbit, with NASA, the Department of Defense, or private satellite operators as customers. But with Starlink, SpaceX plans to sell a service directly to the general public. Customers will be able to purchase user terminals to patch into the Starlink constellation, turning SpaceX into a consumer-facing business.
Starlink has previously been advertised as an important part of SpaceX’s future. Musk has claimed that the revenue from the project will help fund sending people to the Moon and Mars. Right now, SpaceX is working on a next-generation rocket called Starship to jump-start the company’s interplanetary ambitions. Musk has said that the development of Starship could cost between $2 billion and $10 billion.
SpaceX isn’t the only company pursuing the internet-from-space business. Other private companies such as OneWeb, Kepler Communications, and even Amazon have proposed building massive constellations to beam internet coverage to the Earth below. So far, only SpaceX and OneWeb have begun launching satellites.
Starlink has also been a source of controversy for those in the astronomy community who are concerned that the massive constellation could muck up their observations of the night sky. The Starlink satellites are particularly bright and have already ruined exposure images taken by telescopes on the ground. SpaceX tried to mitigate this problem by coating one of its satellites to make it appear darker in the sky. It’s unclear if the coating has worked yet, and SpaceX plans to continue launching its bright satellites in the meantime.