SpaceX, Starship, and the Future of Starlink

Despite ending in a cataclysmic inferno, SpaceX’s initial test flight of a full Starship prototype bodes well for the future of Starship — and Starlink.

The flight of Starship SN8 (“Serial Number 8”) demonstrated a controlled ascent, engine cutoff, complex flip move, aerodynamic stability on reentry, engine startup, and another complex flip move. Unfortunately the craft didn’t slow sufficiently before landing due to fuel tank pressure issues, and ended up as a smoldering pile of scrap metal.

The next prototype, SN9, is already constructed and ready to go. SpaceX also has started construction of the next six prototypes.

Assuming that SpaceX succeeds in launching and landing future prototypes, including into LEO and back, next would come demonstration missions.

And this is good news for Starlink. SpaceX would be unlikely to host paying customers in early Starship satellite deployments. The company won’t fly astronauts until completing “hundreds of missions“. So that leaves Starlink. Analysts estimate that one Starship flight, which reportedly will only cost $2 million, could launch up to 400 Starlink satellites per launch.

SpaceX has launched under 1,000 Starlink satellites to date. Given Starship’s encouraging initial performance and capacity, it is likely that the cadence of Starlink deployments will accelerate quickly once Starship is operational, which with respect to Starlink, may not be too many months away.