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Some 6,000 satellites later, Musk's Starlink turns profitable in 2024, report estimates

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After putting two experimental satellites in orbit in early 2018, SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 Starlink V0.9 satellites exactly five years ago, in May 2019. Soon after, in January 2020, massive deployment of V1.0 started. Until today, SpaceX has launched over 6,300 satellites with the last batch being sent to orbit this week.

SpaceX has the luxury of launching its own satellites for cheap on its reusable Falcon 9 rockets. However, with the unprecedented launch cadence – for both the launcher and the mega constellation – and the subsidizing of user terminals, the expenses of building and operating such a platform are huge.

Despite that, only five years since the launch of the first full batch of Starlink satellites, the service should be profitable in 2024, Ars Technica reported quoting the Tuesday presentation of research firm Quilty Space.

Quilty Space estimates that Starlink, nearing three million customers worldwide, will reach $6.6 billion in revenues this year and an estimated free cash flow of $600 million, essentially turning a profit for SpaceX for the first time in its short history.

Chris Quilty, the co-founder of the research firm, acknowledges that SpaceX’s efforts were significantly underestimated in terms of launch cadence and the impact on the market. Additionally, SpaceX's vertical integration in satellite design has enabled it to reduce costs not only in launch expenses but also in manufacturing.

Another interesting point is the claim that SpaceX is no longer subsidizing the proprietary user terminals in the U.S., and the company has also addressed some more concerns about its long-term economic viability.

Ars predicts that Elon Musk’s business will receive an additional boost once the giant Starship rocket is operational. This will enable new, heavier versions of Starlink satellites to be placed in orbit and provide a direct-to-cell connection that doesn’t rely on user terminals.

Getting rid of the user terminals down the road would be a win-win situation for both the users and SpaceX. The company would eliminate an expensive hardware element from the service chain, while the users would also save significantly. This feature would make procuring the service more accessible and improve the mobility of using the service outside of the user’s home address.

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