WSJ Report: SpaceX Recorded $260 Million Loss in 2015

Credit: USLaunchReport.com
Credit: USLaunchReport.com

The Wall Street Journal managed to get a hold of some internal SpaceX financial documents. The results are very interesting:

  • SpaceX lost $260 million in 2015, the result of an explosion of a Falcon 9 rocket that grounded the rocket for six months;
  • Elon Musk’s company ended 2015 with $1.3 billion in cash, primarily from a $1 billion investment by Google and Fidelity investments “as well as huge upfront payments for development work and launch reservations”;
  • Although SpaceX’s revenues peaked at $1 billion in 2014, its operating profit was thin;
  • SpaceX projected $55 million in operating profit for 2016 based on launching 20 times, but it only flew eight times before a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad on Sept. 1 and grounded the booster;
  • SpaceX projected launching 27 times in 2017 with an increase to 44 in 2018;
  • Despite a long-standing claim that the SpaceX was “profitable and cash-flow positive,” the company had an operating loss in every quarter in 2015 and a “negative cash flow of roughly $15 million”;
  • SpaceX removed the claim that it was “profitable and cash-flow positive” three weeks after a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad on Sept. 1, indicating that it likely lost money in 2016;
  • The company is betting big on its 4,000-satellite Internet business, expecting it to generate annual operating profits of $15 billion to $20 billion by 2025; and,
  • The satellite Internet business is Musk’s big hope for funding his plan to colonize Mars.

Read the full story. (If you hit a paywall with this link, type the story headline into Google and then click on the link that comes up.)

  • Sadly, this reads like the business practice for any other Silicon Valley tech company. The theory is to find a market you can “disrupt” and pump the company full of financial steroids (mega or even giga-bucks) to capitalize on big initial lead, then figure out how to monetize/profit from what you’ve got. It’s a high risk/high reward way of doing business that has not worked for aerospace companies yet (Eclipse anyone?).

    When it works, you get Google, Facebook and Amazon. When it doesn’t, you get Pets.com, Webvan, or any number of others. Heck, even if your business plan is only SLIGHTLY off, you get a Sidecar or Lyft instead of an Uber!

    Personally, I’m not a fan of the “grow fast then figure out how to monetize” strategy, I’m more a fan of the “nail it, then scale it” worldview.

  • Douglas Messier

    My sense is that things just keep sliding on Elon’s Mars dream. The idea was fund Mars flights on profits from SpaceX. But that hasn’t happened yet, and the company is 15 years old now.

    There was also hope that SolarCity and Tesla would provide the profits. But, SolarCity proved to be a major money pit and ran up $3 billion in debt. Tesla — another money-losing, indebted company — acquired SolarCity in what was either a no-brainer that will produce cost savings and synergies (Musk’s claim) or a giant bailout of the company, Musk and his two cousins that has weighted down the car company with even more debt.

    Now there’s the 4,000+ satellite Internet plan that will produced tens of billions in operating profits by the mid-2020’s but will be a money sink in the meantime and will require massive investment.

    Now, before everyone jumps on me here, I realize that SpaceX’s business would turn around if they can start launching regularly and reliably and can realize the cost savings from reusable rockets. And I get that Tesla could start turning large profits at some point and that the losses and debt it has piled up are part of building up the company. So, I’m not writing any of these companies off. But, the risk is that Tesla falls short on delivering the next model and gets swamped by competitors in the electric car area.

    The point is that Musk takes a lot of risks and that his companies are very vulnerable to setbacks. SpaceX operates on a very thin margin and its workforce is spread pretty thin across a number of programs. If the company has another launch failure any time soon, it could be in real trouble.

  • MzUnGu

    Oh boy, solar roof then this, Just remembering how many of the terrestrial ISP providers are left from the 90’s should give some idea of the long term prospect of Space ISP competing with cheap old copper wire and fiber-optics, or cell towers…. But, Nothing fuels a investment gas bubble better than vapor-sats. 😛 Space away we go, space cadets.

    Just when the Big Autos are catching up to them on the electric car rage, the man goes scrambling for the solar roof, now it looks like he is panicking and using ISP-Sats to inflate the revenue prospects… I am afraid for them now… 😛

  • windbourne

    relax. SpaceX is poised to take off again. They just need to make sure that they do not lose another one.

    And Big auto is a good 10 years from catching up to Tesla.
    And with M3, Tesla should be VERY profitable and able to expand into the rest of the world by end of 2018.

    The solar part is doing fine. They were being manipulated by other companies, so, SC was folded into Tesla. Issue solved.
    At this time, SC handles 1/3 of all solar installs in America due to being the cheapest system. WIth their new plant going up in NY, they should be able to cut their prices about 15-25%. As such, Tesla believes that even without the battery and new solar roof, that they would capture about 1/2 of solar installs.
    With battery and solar roof? Even more.

  • windbourne

    that is not the case with solar city.
    There are 2 different issues there.
    The first is that SC went after leasing (such as what we have at our house). The vast majority of the 3B went into buying these solar panels and installing them and then counting on ppl like myself paying them 110/month. Since we have options available to use after 10 years, it is obvious that it takes about 10 years to pay it back. After that, it is a nice profit.

    tesla is growing nicely and with the release of M3 at the end of this year, and the assumed scale up of production for next year, it SHOULD be a large profits.
    Based on Tesla’s past, a number of ppl will say that they can not scale. However, both MS/MX were done like normal production line which requires a lot of work to scale up. And being a young company, that is hard.
    Those lines basically mix robotic and humans together which makes it hard to scale.

    They are now flipping everything. The final assembly line will be 100% ROBOTICS. Not a single human will be touching or doing any assembly work. They will be there to inspect and make sure that equipment is performing as expected (QA will ALSO be automated).
    Instead, all of the sub parts are either made by humans, machines, or a mix of these.

    I will say that I am amazed that SpaceX is doing this well with 2 failures so close to each other. I have said all along that I did not expect SpaceX to survive with 2 failures. However, I can not see them going on if they have a 3rd failure in the next 2 years.

    As to tesla, slim chance that they will fail. Even SC is a near certainty.

  • MzUnGu

    If the PV install market is so rosy, it would not have needed the Tesla bailout/buyout, would it?

  • If you add up all of von Braun’s programs (V-2, Redstone family and Saturn family), he’s responsible for about $1 trillion of spending in modern terms. Likewise, I give Musk personal credit for kicking off this next generation of rocket design (Falcon 1/9/Heavy, Vulcan, Antares, Sheppard/Glenn, H-3, Ariane 6, Angara, etc.) and much of the spacecraft design (Dragon, CST-100, Dreamchaser, Cygnus, etc.). How much does that total? While it’s not a $1 trillion, it’s well into the billions!

    Still, von Braun never achieved his true goal of Mars, and Musk may not either. But both are moving the ball down the field, and that IS a good thing. Even if SpaceX “pulls an Apple” and has to fire Musk, the advances that this generation of space technology is seeing won’t disappear, nor the march toward commercialization.

    Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major in a decade, but he changed the level of play for the entire sport and now “Tiger Woods level” is considered the minimum to compete. That’s NOT a bad legacy to leave.

  • John_The_Duke_Wayne

    “I realize that SpaceX’s business would turn around if they can start launching regularly and reliably and can realize the cost savings from reusable rockets. ”

    That’s kinda of been the caveat Musk always lead his talks with even from the beginning. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard something along the lines of “none of this will be possible without reusability.” A lot of times that refers to mars but he uses it when talking SpaceX profits too

    “But, the risk is that Tesla falls short on delivering the next model and gets swamped by competitors in the electric car area.”

    As much as many people out there would be happy to see this happen I doubt any would be as satisfied with themselves as musk would be. He is on record saying that his goal with Tesla was always to push the advancement and wide scale usage of EV’s 5 years closer. And if he happened to turn a massive profit and become the largest EV auto manufacturer in the US then great too

    When I look at the success or failure (more likely case) of SpaceX and Tesla I don’t see a likely outcome that is bad in the big picture. Industries have been shaken and technology is being advanced (Audis self driving car is supposed to be a sweet machine)

  • windbourne

    The PV install market is just fine. They were not going under. What WAS happening is that stock was being manipulated and they were being shorted. Without the heavy value of a tesla, it was relatively easy for utilities or whoever to manipulate them.
    Now, they can not do that easily.

    But there was more reason for merging these 2. In particular, the ability to add the battery to SC and NOT have to offer it elsewhere is a biggie.

  • Bernardo_de_la_Paz
  • Don’t get me wrong, I think Uber is evil (https://youtu.be/Og3PjvcR1Pc), it’s just a recent example of a Silicon Valley darling where one competitor (Sidecar) is already out and another (Lyft) is struggling.

  • MzUnGu

    I must’ve missed that Kool Aid Party. 😛

  • windbourne

    as well as you missed facts.

  • Douglas Messier

    The satellite Internet constellation is classic Musk: as breathtaking in its scope as it is optimistic and naive in its projections. My guess is he’s once again badly underestimated the time and resources needed to make it a reality. If he can get it done, it might provide the returns he’s projecting. But, those might be optimistic as well. The satellite system also depends a great deal on Elon’s well-honed ability to sell this vision to investors and partners.

    The Mars plan is very similar. Here the job will be a lot harder. There’s not much commercial ROI from Mars settlements. Elon needs public money — and probably a lot of it — and the only space agency really interested in sending people there is NASA. And that goal might not survive the change of administration.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Big Auto is a lot closer then 10 years behind Tesla. With the Chevy Bolt already available, it proves just how fast they can catch up to the new guy. All automakers are moving to electric, and by 2020, Tesla will have a massive amount of competition. But if anyone can stay ahead of the pack, it’s Musk.

  • windbourne

    according to those who have come from other car makers, they claim that Musk is 10 years ahead.

    The bolt is a horrible joke. It gets 238 MPC, which is nice, but then, how do you charge it QUICKLY? The answer is, that you do not. All it has, is a level 2 charger. It will take 9 hours to recharge it with a top-end level 2 charger.
    And to add the supercharger to the bolt will cost GM a good 5-10K (i.e. customers will pay 10-15K for that).
    The speeds are purposely kept slow because GM went with large flat cells to keep their costs down., but also because they do not want it competing against their ICE vehicles.

    Then you have the inside of it which is a 20K car. Nothing more.

    And all of the car makers have said for a LONG TIME that they would have numerous EVs out in first 2016. Then 2017, and now we are up to 2020. They are making fusion reactors look like they are moving quikly.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Really, your going to talk about missed deadlines…a topic Musk is notorious for being WAY off on his predictions.
    The Bolt is a great EV, but if you travel long distances, then this wouldn’t be the car for you. People with average paying jobs, would not be willing to pay 10-15k more for faster charging. They would either have 1 car be ICE and the other car electric, or they would rent a gas car for long trips. AT CES Ford finally announced that they were pushing hard towards electrics, the second gen Leaf will have over 200 MPC and it should come out later this year. I’m not going to list all the companies that are coming out with great EV’s because now (finally) the list is too long.
    Personally, I’m hoping Musk will build an EV pickup…but sadly I don’t expect anyone to do that until around 2020.

  • windbourne

    missed deadlines? Nope.
    Car makers are stringing fools along so that they think that something is really going on.
    For example, Nissan Leaf has been saying for 5 years that next year they will have 200 MPC. Only a fool believes that will happen.
    Ford is NOT making any new EVs. They are making some hybrids, but these are more expensive junks.
    And you are correct that nobody would buy a 20K car at 45K just because it is an EV.

    Tesla’s pickup production line will start in 2019 or 2020.
    They have M3 starting this year, and next year, they are supposedly going to start MY ( smaller SUV using the same frame as M3).

    As to nissan, they are a joke.
    http://insideevs.com/monthly-plug-in-sales-scorecard/

  • patb2009

    I thought the problem at SC was growth tied to cheap debt, when that growth slowed, suddenly the cheap debt wasn’t available… Seemed it would have been cheaper to buy SC back out of bankruptcy.

  • patb2009

    “Bolt EV offers DC Fast Charging capability, which provides up to 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes of charge time. DC Fast Charging stations are available for public use and are perfect for topping off your charge anytime while on the go. By the time you finish a cup of coffee, you’ll be powered up and so will your Bolt EV.”

    The Bolt has SAE/CCS charging. Granted there aren’t that many L-3 CCS chargers right now but at 60 KW it will give you a decent charge. Eat lunch get another 200 miles of range.

  • windbourne

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_Bolt

    The 50 kW SAE Combo DC fast charging that can add 90 mi (140 km) of range in 30 minutes or fill the battery to 80% capacity in an hour, whereas the onboard AC charger is 7.2 kW.[35] The Bolt user manual suggests a 80 kW charger to ensure consistent 50 kW charging.[20][40] GM offers a battery warranty of 8 years / 100,000 miles, and has no plans for other battery sizes. [23]

    https://my.chevrolet.com/content/dam/gmownercenter/gmna/dynamic/manuals/2017/Chevrolet/BOLT%20EV/Owner's%20Manual.pdf

    http://www.tu.no/artikler/har-startet-produksjonen-av-de-forste-opel-ampera-e/366167

    Ralf Hannappel, head of Opel’s electrification, cleaned up and explained that the models are identical and that both both charge with a maximum of 50 kilowatt power. This gives according Opel 150 km range with 30 minutes of charging (NEDC).

    50 KW is called fast charge, while super charging is something totally different.

  • windbourne

    ??? Debt is still cheap.
    However, Solar City has 2 means of investment.
    1) into the company directly. That is now gone. It is tesla.
    2) into the panels themselves. I am not sure if this is still going on.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    You may be right, but I try hard not to go down the conspiracy rabbit hole.
    Faraday will go under, anyone with eyes knows this.
    Lucid Motors is far more likely to make it to production then Faraway Future.
    Rimac…yeah, I’m sure Gates & Zuckerberg will enjoy it.
    Rivian – who? crickets chirping…
    Porsche is working on an EV that will sell 20k per year…a big number for them.
    VW is now pouring a ton of money into EV’s, mainly because of diesel-gate.
    Again, ALL of the big guys are going electric. I think your right about your theory, at first. But not anymore (thanks to Tesla), everyone knows how good EV’s are, and so tide has turned. The flood of EV’s is coming. BTW, Tesla will likely make a roadster after the “Model Y”, I don’t think they will make an EV truck until 2021. Hopefully it looks beefy, and not all swoopy for a low drag coef….pickup truck owners (like me) don’t give a flying fuck about that.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    I don’t think Tesla has the capacity to generate the profit needed to find Musk’s ambitions. At best, they might break even with operational profits, if you include the resale of carbon tax credits, but the auto market is very capital intensive. Right now he has 1 model (S) that is getting long in the tooth and needs a restyle. The model X is an ugly minivan with QC issues. He has the R&D team focused on the model 3, but in the meanwhile the major players are working on 3 or 4 new models all at the same time. Windbourne might not like Nissan, Toyota, BMW, or VW, but these companies have decent electric cars coming out in the next couple of years at or below the Tesla price point. And they have the manufacturing / marketing infrastructure in place to sell 10 times as many EVs as Tesla in a single year.

  • Jeff2Space

    Car buyers are a fickle group. Tesla has really made a name for itself. Ask someone to name as many companies that make electric only cars as they can. I’ll bet just about all of them will be able to name Tesla. The rest, not so much.

    If the Model 3 sells as well in its class as the Model S does, the “big auto” car makers will be quite jealous.

  • windbourne

    To be fair about Faraday, they were simply here to steal tech. Nothing more. I seriously doubt that they had ANY intention of actually building here. As it is, they had Faraday design the Chinese car, and then claimed it was to be developed ONLY in China.

    If you do not know who Rivian is, then you are not even close to staying up on the EVs.
    I listed only a few. Companies like NextEV are also getting moving.
    And Rimac has an expensive car ( $1M+), but are also hard at work on a sub $200K (think tesla roadster). Fiskar is still working on multiple cars (but are both hybrids and real EVs).

    As to the truck, I have no doubt that it will have ‘swoopy’ on it, though not as much.
    However, when you will be able to pay 35-45K for a truck that has more torque than a F250, I think that most ppl will buy them, and walk away from Ford, GM, Dodge. I know that I would.

    Though if it is pure Al esp in the bed, I will not buy it. Ford really screwed up that one.

  • publiusr

    I wish he’d look at the old Orbital Antenna farm or Globis concepts and use Falcon heavy to make them a reality.