SpaceX shakes up Starship leadership in Texas as pressure mounts for rocket's next milestone

SpaceX shakes up Starship leadership in Texas as pressure mounts for rocket’s next milestone

An aerial view of a Starship prototype stacked on top of a Super Heavy booster at the company’s Starbase facility outside of Brownsville, Texas.

SpaceX

As Elon Musk makes daily headlines about the changes on Twitter, a major revamp is underway at his space company’s launch facility in Texas.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell and Vice President Mark Juncosa — two of the company’s most influential executives besides Musk himself — now oversee the facilities and operations of the location. company’s Starbase, people familiar with the situation told CNBC.

Starship Chief Operations Officer Shyamal Patel is moving to the company’s Cape Canaveral facility after spending more than two years working on the next-generation rocket in Texas, these people said. . Patel was previously based in Cape Town, before a promotion and move to Starbase.

The space company also quietly brought in Omead Afshar, a Texas-based company You’re here Chief Operating Officer, as Vice President of Starship Production.

The information previously reported the new responsibilities of Shotwell and Juncosa, while Bloomberg first reported the addition of Afshar. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment on the reorganization.

SpaceX has steadily built its facility known as Starbase, outside the town of Brownsville, Texas, which serves as the primary hub for the development, testing and launches of its nearly 400ft Starship rocket. high. The rocket is designed to carry goods and people beyond Earth and is key to NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the Moon, with SpaceX winning a nearly $3 billion contract from the agency in 2021.

The nominations demonstrate the sense of urgency within the company to get Starship flying. Shotwell and Juncosa have both been at SpaceX since their early days under Musk.

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Juncosa visited Starbase over the summer for what was supposed to be a two-week stint, one of the people familiar told CNBC, to bring a fresh perspective and update Musk and Shotwell on development progress at the site.

This person called Juncosa’s findings alarming, with an attempted orbital launch further out than company management expected. SpaceX had hoped to complete Starship’s first orbital launch as early as summer 2021, but progress delays and regulatory approval have pushed that schedule back.

Last month, NASA said SpaceX had recently told the agency that Starship’s first orbital launch could take place as early as early December.

An aerial view of the company’s Starbase facility outside of Brownsville, Texas.

SpaceX

The Federal Aviation Administration in June completed a long-awaited environmental assessment of the Starbase facility, key to the company receiving a license from the federal regulator for Starship launches. But, as a result of that FAA decision, SpaceX had to take more than 75 environmental mitigation actions — and it’s still unclear if those actions are complete. The FAA did not respond to a request from CNBC on Friday for an update on the process.

The Starship rocket and its Super Heavy booster are powered by SpaceX’s Raptor series of engines, and the entire system is designed to be reusable, unlike the partially reusable parts of the company’s Falcon series of rockets.

A year ago, Musk described a “crisis” with Raptor engine production that prompted the withdrawal of a vice president from the program, who left the company. Since then, SpaceX has increased Raptor production to a rate of seven engines per week – which is crucial, since each Super Heavy booster requires 33 engines and each Starship rocket has six.

While Musk has long lobbied for employees at its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters to move to Starbase to help with the Starship effort, the company is encouraging more relocation.

Last week, SpaceX launched an offer to salaried employees for pay raises between 10% and 25% if they move to South Texas, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. The company has also increased its hourly pay rates for non-salaried Starbase employees, CNBC has learned, as well as performance-based incentives for 2023.

Musk’s company is launching Falcon rockets into orbit at a blistering pace this year, along with regular cargo and crew missions for NASA and others. But Starship is the keystone to the company’s $127 billion future growth: SpaceX needs the rocket to efficiently deploy the second generation of its Starlink satellites, needed to go beyond what Musk has described. as the “financially weak” first generation.

SpaceX is building a backlog of private astronaut missions on the rocket.

The company last conducted a Starship flight test in May 2021, with the SN15 prototype, but it was only at around 30,000ft altitude – far less rigorous than an orbital launch would entail. Over the past few months, SpaceX has been gaining momentum through increasingly robust “static fire” engine testing of its prototype Super Heavy booster number seven and its prototype SN24 spacecraft.

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