A Lazard investment banker has raised concerns about the dominant position of Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the rocket launch market. Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecom, media, and entertainment at Lazard, expressed his worries during a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference. He stated that having such a dominant launch provider is not healthy for the industry’s commercial prospects. Nidamaluri emphasized that a monopoly can choke out other players in the value chain, and although there are other companies ramping up their capacity, their progress has not been rapid enough due to delays.
This is not the first time concerns about a rocket launch monopoly have been raised within the space industry. Rocket launches are a critical stage in flying satellites and spacecraft into orbit, and having only one dominant player can become a bottleneck. While several U.S. companies are working to develop competitors to SpaceX’s Falcon rockets, they are facing difficulties in bringing next-generation operational rockets to the market.
SpaceX has been leading the global rocket launch market, surpassing its own record with 63 missions in 2023. The company’s frequency of launches sets a blistering pace, with an average of one launch every four days. Not only does SpaceX dominate the U.S. rocket market, but it also leads the world in both launches and spacecraft mass delivered to orbit each quarter. This dominance keeps the U.S. ahead of China, the closest geopolitical competitor, in satellite and astronaut launches.
Responding to the concerns, SpaceX Vice President Tom Ochinero assured that the company is open to flying satellites of its competitors for its Starlink satellite internet service. He emphasized that SpaceX is primarily a launch company and is here to provide launches. Ochinero mentioned that they have previously launched satellites for other competitors like OneWeb, Viasat, and EchoStar. He further noted that SpaceX is willing to accommodate launches for competitors and customers even if it means adjusting their own launch schedules.
Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, disagreed with the notion that SpaceX has full control of the launch market. He stated that ULA, the next largest U.S. rocket competitor, is working on its next-generation Vulcan rocket and believes that SpaceX will not become a benevolent monopoly. ULA has completed two launches in 2023 and is set to launch its Vulcan rocket in the coming months.