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Liftoff! SpaceX Gets $1 Billion From Google and Fidelity

Image: SpaceX Dragon

An artist's conception shows SpaceX's Dragon capsule in orbit. SpaceX

SpaceX, the California-based rocket company that now has its sights set on a globe-spanning satellite constellation, says it has received a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity that values the company at more than $10 billion.

Advance reports about the investment had been rumbling for a couple of days, and those reports were confirmed in a statement issued by SpaceX on Tuesday:

"Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has raised a billion dollars in a financing round with two new investors, Google and Fidelity. They join existing investors Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn. Google and Fidelity will collectively own just under 10 percent of the company.

"SpaceX designs, manufactures, and launches the world's most advanced rockets and spacecraft. This funding will be used to support continued innovation in the areas of space transport, reusability, and satellite manufacturing."

The fresh round of financing came just days after SpaceX's billionaire founder, Elon Musk, visited Seattle to kick off a new project aimed at putting up to 4,000 satellites into low Earth orbit to provide low-cost Internet access.

Over the course of a dozen years, Musk has built SpaceX into a major player in the launch business, sending cargo ships to the International Space Station and telecom satellites to geosynchronous orbit. This month, SpaceX conducted an unprecedented, and almost successful, test of an innovative rocket landing system.

Musk says he wants the Seattle-based satellite project to "do for satellites what we've done for rockets."

During his Seattle appearance, he estimated that the satellite system could start providing data services by 2020, and that the entire constellation could be in place by 2030 or so. The cost of the venture could amount to $10 billion or more, he said.

Musk said the revenue generated by the venture could go toward building a city on Mars, thus advancing his long-held goal of turning humanity into a "multiplanet species."

Google has been eyeing investment opportunities in satellite networking for a long time. Last year, for example, it acquired a satellite startup called Skybox Imaging. Google also has invested in O3B Networks, which has already begun to put a satellite constellation in orbit.

Yet another such venture, called OneWeb, announced last week that it had signed up Qualcomm and British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Group as its initial investors.

Update for 8 p.m. ET Jan. 20: Google said Don Harrison, the company's vice president of corporate development, would be joining SpaceX's board of directors. "Space-based applications, like imaging satellites, can help people more easily access important information, so we're excited to support SpaceX's growth as it develops new launch technologies," Google said in a statement.