SpaceX’s Elon Musk Makes Debut on Forbes Billionaire’s List

By Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

Elon Musk has made his first appearance on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires. The 40-year-old entrepreneur has landed at 634 on the list with an estimated net worth of $2 billion.

Musk has developed the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon vehicle to send cargo and crew to the International Space Station. His company, SpaceX, has received money under NASA’s COTS  (for cargo) and CCDev (crew) programs. He is also reported to have invested up to $100 million of his own funds into SpaceX.

In addition to his involvement with SpaceX, Musk is a trustee of the X PRIZE Foundation, whose space competitions include the Ansari X Prize, the Google Lunar X Prize and the Northrup Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

The South African-born entrepreneur also runs two other companies, the electric car producer Tesla Motors and SolarCity, which provides solar energy systems.

Developments in these other two businesses are what fueled Musk’s leap onto the Forbes list of billionaires, according to the magazine. Last October, Forbes estimated that he was worth $680 million.

His electric car company, Tesla Motors, saw a 30% increase in its stock price year over year through Feb. 14, 2012. Tesla stock noticeably jumped after the early February 2012 unveiling of the Model X, which will go into production in 2013. Musk’s  29% stake in Tesla is worth just over $1 billion.

Then there’s SolarCity, a company that designs, finances and installs solar panels and systems. Musk owns a fourth of the company, founded and run by his cousin Lyndon Rive. SolarCity is expected to file an S-1 soon with the intent of going public. The IPO, to be underwritten by Goldman Sachs, aims to value the company at $1.5 billion. At the end of February, SolarCity announced an institutional funding round led by Silver Lake Kraftwerk, including fellow billionaire Nicholas Pritzker. The round raised $81 million.

The biggest wildcard component in Musk’s fortune is his two-thirds stake in SpaceX. The company has already racked up billions of dollars in government and commercial contracts for nearly 40 rocket launches through the year 2017. SpaceX has focused on building reusable rockets (government-built rockets are one-use disposable models), with the end goal of drastically decreasing the cost of space travel. Musk has hinted at a public offering for the company in 2013.  He hired former Broadcom finance executive Bret Johnsen as SpaceX Chief Financial Officer in May 2011. Johnsen is expected to prepare the company for an IPO.

Together, Musk’s stakes in SolarCity and SpaceX are worth $1 billion.

A look at other billionaires who are involved in the space industry is below.

RankNameAgeNet Worth
CompaniesSpace Involvement
24Sergey Brin38$18.7GoogleGoogle Lunar X Prize, Prospective Space Traveler (founding member, Space Adventures’ Orbital Mission Explorers Club)
24Larry Page39$18.7GoogleGoogle Lunar X Prize, X PRIZE Foundation trustee
26Jeff Bezos48$18.4AmazonBlue Origin
48Paul Allen59$14.2MicrosoftStratolaunch, SpaceShipOne, SETI telescope array
255Richard Branson61$4.2Virgin GroupVirgin Galactic
464Guy Laliberte52$2.6Cirque du SoleilFlight to ISS
634Elon Musk40$2.0SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCitySpaceX, X PRIZE Foundation trustee

As you can see, the United States is the nexus of entrepreneurial space. Four members of this list are Americans, Musk is a South African immigrant to the United States, and Branson is a British billionaire who is having his suborbital space plane built in California. Laliberte is Canadian.

Branson has the most expensive privately-funded space project to date, with development costs for the WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles expected to reach almost $400 million. Most of that money is being put up by Aabar Investments, a firm owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family. Branson also convinced New Mexico to custom build Spaceport America from which SpaceShipTwo will fly at a cost of $209 million.

It’s not clear just how much Allen is investing in the Stratolaunch project, which will build an enormous aircraft that will air-launch payloads using a smaller version of Musk’s Falcon 9 rocket. The Microsoft billionaire has refused to provide an exact amount.

Brin is involved in space two ways. His company is sponsoring the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which is a private race to land a vehicle on the moon. He also has put down a $5 million deposit with Space Adventures to fly into space. His Google co-founder, Larry Page, is a trustee of the X PRIZE Foundation.

Jeff Bezos is funding the mysterious Blue Origin company, which is building suborbital and orbital vehicles in the Texas desert. It’s unclear how much Bezos has invested in the company. NASA has provided Blue Origin with funding under its CCDev program.