Trending: ‘Canary in a coal mine’: Seattle marketing tech startup Amplero shuts down, lays off 17 employees
Starlink satellites
SpaceX’s two prototype Starlink satellites are seen on either side of their carrier in advance of their launch in February. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX is set to raise $500 million in new investment to boost the development of its Starlink internet satellite service, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

The funding round sets the California-based space company’s valuation at $30.5 billion, the Journal quoted unnamed sources as saying.

One source familiar with the terms of the round told the Journal that SpaceX and investors have agreed on the financing terms, but the money hasn’t yet been sent to the company. The investors are said to include existing shareholders as well as Baillie Gifford, a Scottish investment firm that is the third-largest shareholder in Tesla, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s other big business concern.

Today’s report about the investment round came just weeks after SpaceX took out a $250 million high-yield leveraged loan, in a private deal reportedly managed by Bank of America. At the time, sources suggested that cash would go toward development of Starlink as well as Starship, the super-heavy-lift launch system formerly known as the Big Falcon Rocket or BFR.

SpaceX launched the first prototypes for the Starlink satellite system in February, and the company has filed updated applications for a constellation that could eventually consist of 12,000 satellites in a range of low-Earth-orbit altitudes.

The company’s facility in Redmond, Wash., has the lead role in developing the satellite hardware and the constellation’s control system. The Redmond operation recently went through a reorganization to accelerate the pace of development.

Starlink is meant to provide low-cost broadband internet access to billions of people around the world who are underserved by existing access networks. SpaceX has also left the door open for Earth imaging, remote sensing and other satellite applications.

The satellite venture is key to SpaceX’s long-term ambitions: When Musk unveiled his plans for a Seattle-area satellite operation nearly four years ago, he told a crowd of VIPs and potential employees that revenue from the Starlink network would generate the money needed to build a city on Mars. And this year, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noted that the satellite telecommunications market was significantly bigger than the launch market.

Back in 2015, Musk estimated that it’d take $10 billion to get Starlink off the ground, and it’ll take billions more to develop the Starship spaceship and its Falcon Super Heavy booster. SpaceX envisions sending Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a cadre of creative artists around the moon in a Starship sometime in the early 2020s, and sending settlers to Mars starting in the mid- to late 2020s.

Starlink may not be the only game in town: The international OneWeb consortium, which includes Airbus and Virgin Orbit, aims to start setting up its own internet access constellation next year. Telesat Canada has already launched a prototype satellite for its broadband constellation, and Luxembourg-based LeoSat expects to launch its constellation in 2020.

There are a couple of Seattle-area connection to OneWeb’s plans. Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture, based in Kent, Wash., has OneWeb as a customer for future launches of its New Glenn orbital rocket. And a stealthy startup called EarthNow, based in Bellevue, Wash., plans to use satellites built by Airbus for 24/7 video feeds from low Earth orbit. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and OneWeb executive chairman Greg Wyler are among that venture’s backers.

Subscribe to GeekWire's Space & Science weekly newsletter


Job Listings on GeekWork

Executive AssistantRad Power Bikes
Find more jobs on GeekWork. Employers, post a job here.