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.
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:
- has had 17 launches this year, 13 of which are non-revenue producing (in the immediate future) Starlink launches.
- has had 4 Starship non-revenue test launches, 3 unsuccessful landings, and 1 landing that resulted in a fire that damaged the ship.
- is engaged in massive non-revenue infrastructure expenditures on developing Boca Chica launch facilities in Texas.
- 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.
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.
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 Launch Next 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
- 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?
- 17 Jun 2021 B1062 FL Yes Yes
- 24 Jun 2021 B1060 FL Yes No
- July 2021? B1049 CA No No
- July 2021? UNK B1058 UNK No No
- 18 Aug 2021 UNK B1063 FL Yes Yes
- Aug 2021? UNK B1061 FL No No
- 15 Sep 2021 UNK B1062 FL Yes No
- Sept 2021? UNK B1060 CA Yes Yes
- Sept 2021? UNK ?? CA Yes Yes
- Sept 2021? UNK B1058 FL No No
- Q3 2021? UNK B1063 FL Yes No
- 23 Oct 2021 B1067 FL Yes Yes
- Oct 2021? B1064-66 FL Yes Yes
- Oct 2021? UNK B1061 FL Yes Yes
- 17 Nov 2021 UNK B1062 FL Yes Yes
- 24 Nov 2021 UNK B1060 CA Yes Yes
- Nov 2021? UNK B1063 FL No No
- 4 Dec 2021 UNK B1061 FL Yes Yes
- Dec 2021? UNK B1067 CA Yes No
- Q4 2021? UNK None Avail. FL Yes No
- Q4 2021? UNK None Avail. CA Yes No