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Where You Spend Your Money…

There is an adage that suggests that where you spend your time and/or money indicates what is your priority. In 2021, SpaceX’s priorities have been on launching Starlink satellites, testing Starships, and developing a rocket launch facility in Texas. SpaceX is burning through money with a priority of spending, not making money.

SpaceX Starship Failure

That is a great plan if you have tax revenues to fund your expenses, but SpaceX isn’t a government operation. It is a private company…that isn’t making money.

SpaceX doesn’t share its financial situation so people have to look at what they are doing to get an idea of what is happening with their cash flow. What we can see is that in 2021, SpaceX:

  1. has had 17 launches this year, 13 of which are non-revenue producing (in the immediate future) Starlink launches.
  2. has had 4 Starship non-revenue test launches, 3 unsuccessful landings, and 1 landing that resulted in a fire that damaged the ship.
  3. is engaged in massive non-revenue infrastructure expenditures on developing Boca Chica launch facilities in Texas.
  4. has only had 4 revenue-producing commercial flights so far.

Regarding SpaceX’s spending on the Starlink buildup, Nicholas Rossolillo, said,

…it’s safe to say Starlink is burning through cash. 

The Motley Fool – 9 March 2021

A Lack of Customers Or Ignoring Customers?

Beyond the money issue, SpaceX is burning through boosters. At a time when SpaceX needs revenue, they have used their Block 5 booster inventory to send up Starlink satellites that will not have a financial return for years, if ever. Paying customers have to wonder if their payloads are a SpaceX priority.

22 Boosters * 10 Launches Each = 220 Launches

The selling point to the public about SpaceX’s launch system is the reusable Falcon 9 Block 5 booster; however, reusable doesn’t mean infinite. Since 2018, SpaceX has built (or in the process of building) 22 Block 5 boosters. These launch-and-return boosters are intended to be used ten times. That should result in 220 launches with this inventory of boosters.

Minus Seven For Falcon Heavy

Yet, seven of the 22 are for use in a configuration of three for the Falcon Heavy rocket. This means that three boosters are used for one launch. Since there have only been two Falcon Heavy launches for large payloads, (plus one more now scheduled for October,) SpaceX actually has only 15 boosters for normal payloads. This gives them the potential of 150 launches.

SpaceX Double Stick Landing of Falcon Heavy Side Boosters

Minus Another Seven That Are Now Unusable

Seven of the remaining 15 boosters have been destroyed or lost. Those seven completed only 24 launches of a potential 70, during their use. That leaves eight boosters that are currently available for active use. Those eight boosters have completed 41 launches of a potential of 80 launches. 

Four Boosters Have a Combined Total of Six Launches Left

However, of those eight active boosters, one has reached its ten launch maximum, one has nine launches, one has eight launches, and one has seven launches. That means four of the active boosters only have six launches before they reach their ten-launch maximum.

SpaceX has suggested that they will continue to use the boosters beyond the ten launches maximum; however, it is unclear whether the FAA will allow SpaceX to go beyond the maximum.

Only Four Boosters Available by the End of The Year

As the year winds down, SpaceX will be down to four Block 5 boosters that aren’t near their maximum launch limit and each takes a minimum of 30 to 40 days to turnaround for another launch. The launches in the last half of November will leave no boosters left for the rest of the 2021 launch schedule. The situation becomes worse if they fail to land a booster that has not reached its ten launch maximum.

More Boosters?

SpaceX’s situation would improve if they can put another booster in the inventory. The problem is that the Falcon Heavy core booster that is scheduled for launch in October will be expended to push the customer’s satellite into a higher orbit. Of the next two boosters in production, one is rumored to be a replacement core booster for the next Falcon Heavy launch in 2022.

In addition, the maximum number of boosters SpaceX has built in a calendar year is six, and last year they only produced five new boosters. Another standard Falcon 9 Block 5 booster seems unlikely. 

SkyFall For SpaceX?

SpaceX lovers tend to avoid taking a hard look at the money question. It is easy to be sucked in by the cool onboard videos, the booster landings, and the spectacular explosive failures, but at some point, the bills have to be paid and in 2021, SpaceX doesn’t have a visible income to pay for the fantasy they’ve created. 

NEXT:  Is SpaceX Looking To Sell Starlink?

By The Numbers

SpaceX Booster Inventory

Block 5 Booster:  Out of Service (9)

Booster      Launches     Reason         Date

  • B1046          4x              NLA        19 Jan 2020
  • B1047          3x               NLA         6 Aug 2019
  • B1048          5x                LF         18 Mar 2020
  • B1050          1x                 LF           5 Dec 2018
  • B1054          1x                 LF         23 Dec 2018
  • B1055          1x                PLF         11 Apr 2019 (FHC*)
  • B1056          4x                LF          17 Feb 2020
  • B1057          1x                 LF          25 Jun 2019 (FHC*)
  • B1059          6x                LF          16 Feb 2021

[Key:  NLA – no landing attempted   LF – Landing Failure  PLF – Post Landing Failure]

Block 5 Booster:  Unusable or MIA (2)

Booster    Launches    Reason     Last Launch

  • B1052        2x             FHS*        25 Jun 2019
  • B1053        2x             FHS*        25 Jun 2019

Block 5 Booster:  New (3)

Booster    Type    First Launch 

  • B1064     FHS       Oct 2021
  • B1065     FHS       Oct 2021
  • B1066     FHC       Oct 2021

Block 5 Booster Inventory:  Available? (8?)

Booster    Launches   Last LauncNext Launch  Next Possible Launch

  • B1049        9x          4 May 2021        July 2021(?)¹       Retired?²
  • B1051      10x           9 May 2021             UKN                    Retired?²
  • B1058        8x         15 May 2021             UKN                24 Jun 2021
  • B1060        7x         29 Apr 2021         24 Jun 2021         3 Aug 2021
  • B1061        3x            6 Jun 2021              UKN                  16 Jul 2021
  • B1062        1x          17 Jun 2021              UKN                  27 Jul 2021
  • B1063        2x         26 May 2021            UKN                    4 Jul 2021
  • B1067        1x            3 Jun 2021           23 Oct 2021          2 Dec 2021

*Booster Type

  • FHC – Falcon Heavy Core Booster
  • FHS – Falcon Heavy Side Booster
  • F9B5 – Falcon 9 Block 5

¹Must be moved to Vandenberg Air Force Base

²Has reached the maximum of 10 launches

SpaceX Remaining 2021 Launches

         Date       Booster   Poss. Booster  Location    Revenue?    Gov’t?

  1. 17 Jun 2021   B1062                                     FL               Yes             Yes
  2. 24 Jun 2021   B1060                                    FL                Yes             No
  3.  July 2021?    B1049                                     CA                No              No
  4.  July 2021?     UNK            B1058              UNK             No              No
  5. 18 Aug 2021   UNK            B1063                FL               Yes             Yes
  6.  Aug 2021?     UNK            B1061                 FL               No              No
  7. 15 Sep 2021   UNK            B1062                 FL               Yes             No
  8.   Sept 2021?   UNK            B1060                CA               Yes             Yes
  9.   Sept 2021?   UNK              ??                       CA               Yes             Yes
  10.   Sept 2021?   UNK            B1058                FL                No              No
  11.   Q3 2021?     UNK             B1063                 FL               Yes             No
  12. 23 Oct 2021   B1067                                      FL               Yes             Yes
  13.   Oct 2021?    B1064-66                               FL                Yes            Yes
  14.   Oct 2021?    UNK             B1061                 FL                Yes            Yes
  15. 17 Nov 2021  UNK             B1062                FL                Yes            Yes
  16. 24 Nov 2021  UNK             B1060                CA                Yes            Yes
  17.    Nov 2021?  UNK             B1063                 FL                 No             No
  18.  4 Dec 2021   UNK             B1061                 FL                 Yes            Yes
  19.   Dec 2021?   UNK             B1067                 CA                 Yes            No
  20.    Q4 2021?   UNK           None Avail.           FL                 Yes            No
  21.    Q4 2021?   UNK           None Avail.           CA                 Yes           No