SpaceX’s near monopoly on rocket launches is a ‘huge concern,' Lazard banker warns

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Vikram Nidamaluri, Managing Director of Telecom, Media, and Entertainment at Lazard, speaks during a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference on Sept. 11, 2023.

Michael Sheetz | CNBC

PARIS – A Lazard investment banker sounded the alarm about the dominance of Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the rocket launch market, as the industry waits for U.S. competitors to begin flying new vehicles.

“I think it’s a huge concern,” Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecom, media, and entertainment at Lazard, said during a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference on Monday.

“Having such a dominant launch provider is probably not healthy just in general for the commercial prospects of the industry,” Nidamaluri added. “I think it’s a huge concern,” Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecom, media, and entertainment at Lazard said during a panel discussion on Monday. Other players are increasing capacity, but I don’t think that the timeline has moved quickly enough. “

Nidamaluri reiterated concerns raised this year by others within the space industry about a rocket launch monopsony. Rocket launches can be a bottleneck when it comes to launching valuable satellites, astronauts and spacecraft into orbit. Several other U.S. companies are working to launch competitors to SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon rockets, but delays mean American rivals are struggling to field next-generation operational rockets.

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A few days ago, SpaceX launched its 63rd mission of 2023 – and the company has already topped last year’s record of 61 missions while flying at a blistering average of a launch every four days. SpaceX is the only company that keeps the U.S. ahead of China, the next closest geopolitical competitor in satellite and astronaut launches. The company alone keeps the U.S. ahead of China, the next closest geopolitical competitor, in satellite and astronaut launches.

A Falcon 9 rocket launches a Starlink mission on January 31, 2023 from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

SpaceX

SpaceX Vice President Tom Ochinero, during a separate panel at World Satellite Business Week on Monday, responded to Nidamaluri’s concern by framing it around whether the rocket-builder would fly satellites of competitors to its Starlink satellite internet service.

“We’ve proven that, yeah, we will,” Ochinero said. We’re first and foremost a launch company, here to provide launches. “

While Starlink has been SpaceX’s biggest internal customer, Ochinero said that the company had moved launches of its own satellites out of the way when necessary to launch for customers and competitors alike. SpaceX recently signed a deal to launch 14 missions for Canadian operator Telesat to deliver its Lightspeed internet satellites to orbit, and has previously launched satellites for other Starlink communications competitors such as OneWeb, Viasat, and EchoStar.

“I’m not super worried about this – we’re here to launch,” Ochinero said

Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, during the same panel pushed back on the idea that SpaceX has full control of the launch market. ULA is the second largest U.S. competitor in rocketry, but has only completed two launches in 2023. It plans to launch its next-generation Vulcan in the next few months.