Recent documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal have cast a spotlight on Starlink, SpaceX’s ambitious satellite internet venture. The reports indicate that while Starlink has been experiencing significant growth, it’s still not meeting the aggressive targets set by SpaceX back in 2015.

The Numbers Game

Starlink pulled in $1.4 billion in revenue for 2022, a staggering increase from its $222 million in revenue in 2021. However, these figures fall far short of the company’s 2015 projections, which had estimated a whopping $12 billion in revenue and $7 billion in operating profit for 2022. The documents don’t break out Starlink’s profitability, but they show that SpaceX reported a loss for 2022 and a slim profit for the first three months of this year.

Illustration of SpaceX’s Starlink network of satellites.

The Subscriber Count

As of the end of 2022, Starlink boasted over one million active subscribers, far from the 20 million subscribers that SpaceX had projected in its 2015 investor presentation. However, the service is currently in a hypergrowth phase, jumping from 250,000 subscribers in March 2022 to over 1.5 million worldwide as of May 2023.

“Elon Musk Time” and Hypergrowth Mode

Elon Musk, known for his ambitious and sometimes overly optimistic timelines across various ventures, has not met the aggressive goals he initially set for Starlink. This phenomenon, often termed “Elon Musk Time,” has seen the entrepreneur set ambitious timelines that aren’t always met within the projected timeframe. However, the service is now in what industry insiders are calling a “hypergrowth” mode, especially considering the rapid increase in subscriber count within just a few months.

The Mars Connection and Investor Watch

SpaceX’s grand vision isn’t just limited to providing high-speed internet; Starlink plays a crucial role in Musk’s plans to send humans to Mars. The revenue generated from Starlink is seen as a key funding source for SpaceX’s interplanetary ambitions. This is especially significant considering the global spending on high-speed internet dwarfs the money spent on rocket launches. Investors are closely watching Starlink’s performance, as it underpins much of SpaceX’s roughly $150 billion valuation and could potentially go public in the future, according to Musk.

The Way Forward

Despite the setbacks in meeting its original goals, Starlink has disrupted the satellite internet market with its low-orbit satellites offering high-speed, low-latency internet. Its rapid subscriber growth and continued innovation, including plans to launch a second generation of satellites, suggest that Starlink is poised for significant future growth.

In Summary

While Starlink may not have reached the astronomical figures projected in 2015, it’s clear that the service is on an upward trajectory. Whether this will be enough to fuel SpaceX’s more ambitious plans for Mars remains to be seen, but what is certain is that Starlink has already made a significant impact on the satellite internet landscape. As the service continues to grow and innovate, the sky—or perhaps, space—is the limit.