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Elon Musk says SpaceX is thinking ‘zero’ about spinning off its Starlink business right now

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‘We need to make the thing work.’

A batch of 60 Starlink satellites just before being deployed into orbit
Image: SpaceX

SpaceX executives aren’t focused on spinning off SpaceX’s internet-from-space project into its own company right now, CEO Elon Musk said today. Instead, SpaceX is focused solely on getting the initiative up and running.

“We’re thinking about that zero,” Musk said during a fireside chat at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington DC, adding, “We need to make the thing work.”

Musk and the conference’s moderator were discussing SpaceX’s Starlink program, the company’s ambitious project to launch nearly 12,000 satellites into low orbit above Earth. Once there, they’d provide broadband internet coverage to users on Earth. Customers could patch into the system by buying user terminals from SpaceX that connect to their devices. So far, SpaceX has launched about 300 satellites for the project, and the company has plans to start rolling out coverage sometime this year.

In early February, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX could one day spin out the Starlink program into its own public company. “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.”

Musk’s remarks suggest he isn’t as concerned with spinning out Starlink from SpaceX. “I mean it’s really important to set the stage here for [low Earth orbit] communications constellations,” Musk said during the conference. “Guess how many LEO constellations didn’t go bankrupt? Zero.”

Musk listed Iridium, Orbcomm, and other companies that attempted to create a low-flying satellite constellation to provide fast communications coverage from space, noting that they all went bankrupt. (This is similar to comments Musk has made on other occasions about carmakers and Tesla.) Musk joked that SpaceX is focusing on being “not bankrupt,” arguing it’d be good to “have more than zero in the non-bankrupt category.”

In the meantime, SpaceX is still moving along rapidly with Starlink launches. The company is set to launch its next batch of 60 Starlink satellites this weekend.