Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecommunications, media and entertainment at Lazard, speaks on a panel at the World Satellite Business Week conference on September 11, 2023.
Michael Sheetz | CNBC
PARIS – A Lazard investment banker has sounded the alarm over Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s dominance in the rocket launch market, as the industry waits for its U.S. rivals to start flying new vehicles .
“I think it’s a major concern,” Vikram Nidamaluri, managing director of telecommunications, 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 in general for the industry’s business outlook,” Nidamaluri added. “No one wants a monopoly stifling one point in the value chain. There are obviously other players increasing their capacity, but I think the timetable hasn’t moved fast enough.”
Nidamaluri echoed concerns about a rocket launch monopoly raised by other space industry players this year. Rocket launches pose a potential bottleneck in the process of putting valuable satellites, spacecraft and astronauts into orbit. Several other U.S. companies are working to launch competitors to SpaceX’s Falcon rockets, but delays mean U.S. rivals are struggling to field operational next-generation rockets.
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A few days ago, SpaceX launched its 63rd mission of 2023 – and the company has already surpassed last year’s record of 61 missions by completing a blistering average of one launch every four days. Beyond the US rocket market, SpaceX is the world leader in terms of launches and mass of spacecraft delivered to orbit each quarter. The company alone keeps the United States ahead of China, its next closest geopolitical competitor, in satellite and astronaut launches.
A Falcon 9 rocket launches a Starlink mission on January 31, 2023 from Vandenberg Space Station in California.
SpaceX Vice Chairman Tom Ochinero, during a separate panel at World Satellite Business Week on Monday, addressed Nidamaluri’s concerns by questioning whether the rocket maker would fly satellites from competitors to its Starlink satellite Internet service.
“We proved it, yes we will,” Ochinero said. “We are above all a launch company, we are there to ensure launches.”
While Starlink is clearly SpaceX’s “large internal customer,” Ochinero noted that the company has moved launches of its own satellites “out of the way, sometimes necessary to provide launches to competitors and customers.” SpaceX recently signed a deal to launch 14 missions for Canadian operator Telesat to put its Lightspeed internet satellites into orbit, and has previously launched satellites for other Starlink communications competitors such as OneWeb, ViasatAnd EchoStar.
“I’m not very worried about it – we’re here to pitch,” Ochinero said
Tory Bruno, CEO of United Launch Alliance, rejected, during the same panel, the idea that SpaceX completely controls the launch market. ULA, historically the second-largest U.S. rocket competitor, has completed only two launches so far in 2023 and is working toward the maiden launch of its next-generation Vulcan rocket in the coming months.
“I appreciate the feeling that (SpaceX) will be a benevolent monopoly, I don’t think you’re a monopoly and I don’t think it’s our plan for you to become one,” Bruno said.