CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Elon Musk’s SpaceX was due to launch 60 small satellites into low-Earth orbit on Wednesday, part of his rocket company’s plan to sell Internet service beamed from space to fund his grander interplanetary ambitions.
FILE PHOTO: A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket (in center, in a horizontal position), is readied for launch on a supply mission to the International Space Station on historic launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., February 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo
The billionaire entrepreneur and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc praised the mission and the design of the satellites on a call with reporters ahead of the launch but cautioned that success was far from guaranteed.
“It’s possible that some of these satellites may not work,” Musk said. “It’s a small possibility that all of the satellites will not work. We’ve done everything we can to maximize the probability of success.”
Musk said he expects launch services revenue to top out around $3 billion per year, making Starlink key to generating the cash that privately held SpaceX needs to fund Musk’s larger dream of developing a new Starship capable of flying paying customers to the moon and eventually trying to colonize Mars.
“We think this is a key stepping stone on the way toward establishing a self-sustaining city on Mars and a base on the moon,” Musk said.
The first 60 Starlink satellites, stacked together atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, were due to blast off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:30 p.m.
Musk plans to send as many as 12,000 satellites into space as soon as 2024 to make high-speed internet available from space across the world.
But he faces stiff competition. In February, satellites built by Airbus SE and partner OneWeb blasted off from French Guiana, the first step in a similar plan to give millions of people in remote and rural areas high-speed internet from space.
Companies LeoSat Enterprises and Canada’s Telesat are also working to build data networks with hundreds or even thousands of tiny satellites that orbit closer to Earth than traditional communications satellites, a radical shift made possible by leaps in laser technology and computer chips.
Musk said SpaceX has “sufficient capital” to get Starlink to an operational level but would potentially need to raise money if things go wrong with the multibillion-dollar endeavor.
Musk has faced other challenges. In November the entrepreneur, frustrated with the pace at which Starlink satellites were being developed, fired at least seven people on the program’s senior management team at a campus in Redmond, Washington, outside of Seattle, Reuters reported.
Reporting by Joey Roulette in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Writing and additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman