Elon Musk says it would ‘not be legal for me to speculate about a Starlink IPO’

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Elon Musk recently reclaimed the title of the world’s richest person thanks to Tesla shares surging this year. But a spinoff and IPO of Starlink, the satellite-broadband unit of his private space business SpaceX, would make him substantially wealthier—and it may happen sooner than some people think.

In January, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya predicted that a Starlink IPO would happen this year—saying it’d be the biggest deal of 2023. He added that Starlink’s valuation “will be at least half of SpaceX’s current private worth.”

“It would not be legal for me to speculate about a Starlink IPO,” Musk said Saturday when asked about plans for a Starlink IPO by Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance in a glitch-filled Twitter Spaces talk. Then he broke out laughing.

Vance—who wrote a 2017 book about Musk and another one this year about the space industry—noted that SpaceX is private and wondered why Musk couldn’t discuss the matter. 

“We’re private, but you cannot—it’s I think against regulations to talk with any kind of specifics about a future public offering,” the SpaceX CEO replied.

Musk in control

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that SpaceX was seeking to boost its valuation to $150 billion by letting employees sell stock. The company had raised $750 million at $137 billion valuation in January, CNBC reported at the time. The Journal reported last December that a trust associated with Musk owns 42% of SpaceX, down from 54% in November 2016 but still enough to keep him in control.

Starlink had more than 1.5 million customers as of early May and is according to investors the primary driver of SpaceX’s valuation, reported the Journal. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in February, “This year, Starlink will make money. We actually had a cash flow positive quarter last year.” 

The Starlink network is designed to deliver high-speed internet anywhere on the planet via thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit. Vance said he sometimes questions whether the business case for Starlink makes sense given the “incredible amount of money” spent on something that “may or may not work.” He asked if the business case was clear for Musk or if he had some of the same doubts at times. 

“The business case is not subjective, it is objective,” Musk replied. “If you can provide a compelling internet connection, where the quality of the product and the price are competitive with terrestrial options—or often there are simply no terrestrial options—then you obviously have a business. So it’s not super complicated, it’s just, how good is you internet and what’s the cost.”

SpaceX told employees last summer that a Starlink IPO likely wouldn’t happen until 2025 or later, according to a CNBC report at the time.

In the interview with Vance, Musk also said that SpaceX has made well over 1,000 changes to Starship, which failed to reach orbit in April during its first test launch. “The probability of the next flight working—or getting to orbit—is much higher than the last one,” he said. “Maybe it’s like 60%.” 

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