Elon Musk was been busy tweeting over the holidays, talking about a visit to Boca Chica, South Texas to view construction on his ‘Starship Alpha’ space rocket, and telling fans that the overall Mars-focussed project had been “radically redesigned”.
It has also emerged that since early December he has raised around $1 billion in fresh funding for SpaceX. The first half-billion has already been reported on, when existing shareholders including Scottish based investment firm Baillie Gifford led a $500 million injection into SpaceX. But last week SpaceX, in an SEC filing, said it had sold a total of 273 million-worth of shares to a group of 8 different investors.
The additional cash takes SpaceX to a total valuation of at least $30 billion achieved through 18 funding rounds. This latest $273 million is additional to the $500 million that comes from Scotland, and is part of an announced $500 million of new shares confirmed as on offer by SpaceX.
Musk, by any measure, has already been featured in hundreds of 2018 news stories, whether it is for his ‘Boring’ transport tube under Los Angeles, as well as the now routine launching of SpaceX rockets and whether or not his Tesla electric car business will ever turn profitable. But his ‘Starlink’ broadband satellite system is now getting closer than ever. And the new ‘Alpha’ rocket is key to the project’s plans, and we suspect will again generated news stories.
December 22nd saw him Tweet that the powerful ‘Raptor’ engines for the ‘Alpha’ craft would be ground-tested this month. He refers to the craft’s ‘Hopper’ missions, and that these tests would take place at Musk’s facility at McGregor, Texas, and are scheduled for this coming March/April.
The design modifications have including specifying stainless steel over carbon fibre because “Usable strength/weight of full hard stainless [steel that’s been cryogenically cold-treated] is slightly better than carbon fiber: room temp is worse, high temp is vastly better,” as he put it in a Christmas Eve Tweet.
We also know that the lower Stage of the overall project will measure 9-metres across, and that the test schedule will comprise a series of hops, some going just 500 metres high, and others to nearer 5000 metres, and in each case bring the rocket safely back to Earth. SpaceX has applied to the FCC for an experimental licence for the test flights.
The Upper – passenger carrying – stage is also reusable and could be used for orbital tourist flights, as well as a planned Lunar flight for 2013. The cargo-carrying version will be used to launch multiple satellites, including SpaceX’s proposed Starlink broadband satellites.
The initial plans for Starlink call for 4425 satellites to be placed into orbit. Musk already has a pair of demo-satellites in orbit (imaginatively dubbed Tintin A and B, but officially called MicroSat-2a and 2b). Musk has FCC approval to place and additional 7518 satellites into various orbits.
The FCC’s tough rules demand that 50 per cent of the initial 4425 craft are orbited within 6-years of last year’s licence approval. Musk has stated – in a Tweet, of course – that batches of Starlink satellites will launch by mid-2019 and services begin in 2020.
Time will tell. But Musk seems able to tick more boxes marked ‘success’ than many of his competitors.