Update: SpaceX confirmed Tuesday that it has raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, which will allegedly be used “to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing.”
Google is “close to investing” $1 billion in SpaceX to support the rocket maker in launching a fleet of small Internet-beaming satellites, according to The Information. SpaceX has been touting a fleet of possibly up to 700 small, sub-250-pound satellites since last November.
The possible deal follows hot on the heels of Richard Branson’s announcement last week that Virgin Galactic would partner with Qualcomm to launch a colossal fleet of 648 satellites for the same reason: to beam low-cost Internet to the masses. But Google’s been talking about launching Internet satellites since last June, which itself followed Facebook’s proposal for satellite Internet way back in March 2014.
Branson’s advantage had been Virgin’s semi-reusable launch system: using their existing carrier plane to hike up to 50,000 feet and drop a smaller rocket to deliver payloads under 500 pounds. But funding SpaceX would give Google’s initiative a fleet of launch vehicles that actively compete with rocket titans Boeing and Lockheed Martin for NASA contracts. SpaceX’s family of rockets are ground-based and may not be as cost-effective as Virgin’s piggyback-launch system, but the latest version of SpaceX’s two-stage Falcon 9 rocket can carry payloads of up to 28,990 pounds into low Earth orbit (where most satellites are deployed).
While SpaceX’s attempt to land its reusable rocket booster ended in spectacular explosive failure last week, SpaceX was just testing out recovery of the rocket’s first stage; its second stage had successfully separated and delivered 3,700 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. The first stage booster’s hydraulic fin system failed at the last second, meaning the booster still nailed its target landing platform, a moving blip in the vast ocean. Musk predicts that a successful recovery system could cut the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100.
The Falcon rockets are still far cheaper than those of SpaceX’s rivals, costing an estimated $100 million to launch “a typical Pentagon satellite” vs. $300 million to $380 million for one launched by the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance.
[via The Information ]