Musk shakes up SpaceX in race to make satellite launch window

SEATTLE/ORLANDO: SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk flew to the Seattle area in June for meetings with engineers leading a satellite launch project crucial to his space company’s growth.
Within hours of landing, Musk had fired at least seven members of the program’s senior management team at the Redmond, Washington, office, the culmination of disagreements over the pace at which the team was developing and testing its Starlink satellites, according to the two SpaceX employees with direct knowledge of the situation.
Known for pushing aggressive deadlines, Musk quickly brought in new managers from SpaceX headquarters in California to replace a number of the managers he fired. Their mandate: Launch SpaceX’s first batch of US-made satellites by the middle of next year, the sources said.
The management shakeup and the launch timeline, previously unreported, illustrate how quickly Musk wants to bring online SpaceX’s Starlink programme, which is competing with OneWeb and Canada’s Telesat to be first to market with a new satellite-based Internet service.
Those services — essentially a constellation of satellites that will bring high-speed Internet to rural and suburban locations globally — are key to generating the cash that privately-held SpaceX needs to fund Musk’s real dream of developing a new rocket capable of flying paying customers to the moon and eventually trying to colonise Mars.
“It would be like rebuilding the Internet in space,” Musk told an audience in 2015 when he unveiled Starlink. “The goal would be to have a majority of long-distance Internet traffic go over this network.”
But the programme is struggling to hire and retain staff, the employees said. Currently, about 300 SpaceX employees work on Starlink in Redmond, the sources said. According to GeekWire, Musk said in 2015 the Redmond operation would have “probably several hundred people, maybe a thousand people” after 3-4 years in operation.
So far this year, about 50 employees left the company “on their own accord,” one of the SpaceX employees said, though the reason for those departures was unclear. Overall, SpaceX employs more than 6,000 staff.
As of Tuesday, there were 22 job openings — including a job making espresso drinks — for the Redmond office, according to SpaceX’s website.
SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend said the Redmond office remains an essential part of the company’s efforts to build a next-generation satellite network.
“Given the success of our recent Starlink demonstration satellites, we have incorporated lessons learned and re-organised to allow for the next design iteration to be flown in short order,” Behrend said.
She had no further comment on the reorganisation or the launch window, but noted the strategy was similar to the rapid iteration in design and testing which led to the success of its rockets. — Reuters