Elon Musk worries SpaceX won’t get to Mars before he dies

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduces the Dragon 2 spacecraft at SpaceX facilities in Hawthorne.
(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

An exhausted-looking Elon Musk said Monday he’s unsure his rocket company SpaceX will accomplish its foundational mission -- getting to Mars -- before he dies.

“If we don’t improve our pace of progress, I’m definitely going to be dead before we go to Mars,” Musk said at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington. “If it’s taken us 18 years just to get ready to do the first people to orbit, we’ve got to improve our rate of innovation or, based on past trends, I am definitely going to be dead before Mars.”

The 48-year-old chief executive of both Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. downplayed the level of attention the closely held company is paying to arrange an initial public offering for Starlink, the satellite business within SpaceX. The plan for the business is to beam broadband to consumers who don’t have the internet, or struggle with slower service, starting this year.


“We’re thinking about that zero,” Musk said of a potential IPO, contradicting comments his president and chief operating officer made last month. “We need to make the thing work.”

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s COO, said at a private investor event last month in Miami that Starlink was likely to be spun out and taken public, without giving a time frame.

Musk, who started his keynote about 40 minutes late, said he was behind schedule because he was coming straight from Boca Chica, Texas, where SpaceX has been working on Starship, the next-generation launch vehicle he plans to use to eventually transport humans to Mars.

He estimated the annual revenue opportunity related to SpaceX providing broadband is about $30 billion, about 10 times greater than the potential for its launch business.