On Future Promise, SpaceX Expected to Be Profitable (Again) for 2010

Last night, I wrote about SpaceX after a Wall Street Journal article stated that the company “needs a cash infusion of more than $1 billion in the next year or two to reach its goal of transporting astronauts to the international space station later this decade. That’s twice the total investment by SpaceX since its creation in 2002. And while [founder and CEO Elon] Musk tapped his own fortune for some $100 million of that, U.S. taxpayers are the most likely source of future assistance.”

I wondered if the recently reported liquidity problems of Musk meant bad news for SpaceX, considering a.) that the Obama administration and Congress are at loggerheads over whether to turn space exploration over to private companies and b.) that Musk has said publicly that he’d own the entire company if he had enough money, and he doesn’t.

SpaceX board member Luke Nosek of Founders Fund — which has invested $30 million in SpaceX, alongside Draper Fisher Jurvetson, which has invested $80 million — tells me now the Journal’s estimate “isn’t off the mark.”

But he argues that even if the government doesn’t give the company the funding it needs to get humans into space, SpaceX — with or without Musk’s financial muscle — is well-positioned to get the job done. Indeed, he says that SpaceX has been profitable for several years and is “expected to be profitable in 2010.”

That’s thanks to the company’s cargo-carrying capabilities, such as they are. Last July, SpaceX successfully delivered to orbit a satellite for Malaysian satellite maker ATSB.

It was the first flight that carried a payload, and the business of carrying satellites is so rife with failures that Boeing and Lockheed Martin abandoned it some time ago. Still, SpaceX has booked orders for more than two dozen launches over the next five years, including to carry to orbit a giant satellite for Loral Space & Communications Inc.,  and to conduct 12 “resupply” flights to the International Space Station on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, via a $1.6 billion contract that SpaceX won in late 2008.

“Eventually, ideally,” says Nosek, “we’ll have an internal process to be able to reinvest all the cash that’s been generated so far by the company toward” getting astronauts  into space,” says Nosek, calling the transportation of people “the mission of the company.”

If that’s not possible, and aid doesn’t come quickly enough from Congress, there’s always more external investment, suggests Nosek. And likely, some would come from Founders Fund.

“We’re really bullish on the company,” Peter Thiel of Founders Fund told me this morning in an email. “We definitely would be open to investing more capital,” he added.

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