SpaceX chief eyes public offering in 2 years

WASHINGTON Mon Dec 3, 2007 8:15pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Space Exploration Technologies Corp, a startup aiming to slash the cost of launching people and cargo into space, may go public within the next two years, its founder and chief executive said on Monday.

The company beat Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier, out of at least one launch for the U.S. government, Elon Musk, who also serves as chief rocket engineer, told the Reuters Aerospace and Defense Summit in Washington.

Musk said he aims to put payloads into space for one-quarter to one-third of what his domestic competitors charge. He said he could beat by one-half the cost of international competitors including China, which he called the biggest potential competitor.

A spokeswoman for the rocket joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance, did not return a request for comment.

"I think going public might be some time in late 2009 ... something on that order," he said in a telephone interview from his headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

But Musk said he was in no rush, did not need funds and was keen to get at least two successful launches of the Falcon 9 rocket under his belt before an initial public offering.

The company hopes that the two-stage, liquid-oxygen- and kerosene-powered Falcon 9 will be able to deliver cargo to the International Space Station in 2009.

SpaceX, as the company calls itself, has about 400 employees. It was founded in 2002 by Musk, now 36. He is also the co-founder of PayPal, a Web-based electronic payments system sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in stock in 2002.

Musk, who says he is dedicated to making earthlings a spacefaring civilization, has invested a little more than $100 million of his own in SpaceX. The company will have earned more than $100 million in 2007 after having become profitable for the first time in the fourth quarter, he said.

The company's main clients now are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Defense Department. But Musk said he expected to derive most of the revenue from private-sector launches, including space tourism, in the "very long term."

Musk -- a South African-born father of five children under the age of four, including triplets and twins -- said he could undercut competitors thanks to lower overhead as well as engineering and staffing efficiencies.

He said SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket had been selected by an unspecified U.S. government client over Lockheed's Atlas 5 for a launch, but declined to give details.

Two test firings of the Falcon 1 rocket, designed for light satellite lifts, have failed to reach orbit, but the second attempt validated the riskiest and most difficult parts of its new design, the company has said.

"I don't consider Boeing and Lockheed to be our biggest competitors," Musk said. "If we fail, it'll be because of some dumb thing that we did, not because of some smart thing that they did."

"It's going to be a lot harder to stay ahead of the Chinese and maybe the Indians," he said.

(For summit blog: summitnotebook.reuters.com/)

(To access summit stories, click on ID:nN07734666)

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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