It seems the Elon Musk mystique — whatever combination of wealth, carefully cultivated charm and A-plus lawyers that have helped him emerge unscathed from countless scandals — is starting to unravel.

Here’s the deal: Federal regulators just announced that Musk’s private space tourism company, SpaceX, will no longer receive nearly $900 million in subsidies that it was awarded last year because the company “failed to demonstrate that [it] could deliver” the internet service it promised.

Let’s rewind for a minute.

  • Back in December, the Federal Communications Commission auctioned off $9 billion in subsidies to internet service providers as part of a plan to bring high-speed internet to rural areas that need it.
  • The fact that SpaceX received one of the largest tranches of that subsidy program was controversial because the Starlink network was basically brand new and unproven.
  • Starlink’s system is wildly different from traditional high-speed internet, which relies on underground fiber optic cables. Starlink, however, relies on thousands of satellites working in tandem to beam internet access to the ground.
  • The FCC was essentially betting that Starlink would be camera-ready soon enough.

The bet seems to have backfired, as the FCC is yanking the subsidies back, saying that the Starlink service is “still developing technology” and that its speeds have been declining, my colleague Jackie Wattles reports.

SpaceX didn’t respond to a request to comment, as is typically the case at companies run by Musk.


Part of Elon Musk’s whole idiosyncratic-visionary-mega-billionaire persona (whether you believe in it or not) is that he runs multiple companies with lofty ambitions — like colonizing Mars, in SpaceX’s case.

FCC: SpaceX won’t receive $900M in subsidies for satellite internet service Starlink

Even if you find his antics — the overpromising, the troll-y tweets, the reckless corporate raiding, naming one of his kids X Æ A-12 — off-putting, you still kinda have to appreciate the audacity.

But it now seems like Musk’s bad behavior might finally be catching up to him.

In recent days, Musk sold nearly $7 billion worth of Tesla shares just in case he loses his legal battle with Twitter and is forced to buy the company, which he no longer wants. At the same time, California officials have filed a complaint alleging that Tesla lied in advertisements about its Autopilot and Full Self Driving technology (which, despite their names, are not fully autonomous).

In June, when several SpaceX employees signed a letter criticizing Musk’s behavior, the company fired at least five of the people involved. A month later, a massive SpaceX rocket prototype exploded on launch. Musk’s response to that on Twitter?

“Yeah, actually not good.”

We could say the same for Musk right about now.

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