Musk shakes SpaceX in the race to create a satellite launch window: Sources

SEATTLE / ORLANDO, Colo. (Reuters) – SpaceX CEO Elon Musk flew to the Seattle region in June to meet with engineers who are launching a satellite launch project critical to the growth of their space company.

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX headquarters will be shown on September 19, 2018 in Hawthorne, California, USA. REUTERS / Mike Blake / File Photo

Within hours of landing, Musk had fired at least seven members of the Program's senior management team at the Redmond office, Washington. This was the culmination of disagreement over the pace at which the team developed and tested its Starlink satellites, according to the two SpaceX staff members with direct knowledge of the situation.

Musk was known to meet aggressive deadlines and quickly hired new managers from SpaceX headquarters in California to replace some of its managers. Your mandate: Launch SpaceX's first line of US-made satellites in the middle of next year.

The management's restructuring and startup schedule, previously unreported, show how quickly Musk plans to bring SpaceX's StarXX program, which competes with OneWeb and Canada's Telesat, to launch a new satellite-based Internet service come.

These services – essentially a constellation of satellites that will bring the high-speed Internet into rural and suburban areas worldwide – are key to generating the money that the privately owned SpaceX needs to make Musk's real dream of developing a new rocket to finance, with the paying customers can fly the moon and finally the attempt to settle the Mars.

"It would be like rebuilding the Internet in space," Musk told an audience in 2015, introducing Starlink. "The goal would be to drive much of the Internet long-distance traffic through this network."

However, the program has difficulty hiring and retaining staff, the staff said. Around 300 SpaceX employees are currently working on Starlink in Redmond. According to GeekWire, Musk said in 2015 that after three to four years, the operation in Redmond would "probably have several hundred, maybe a thousand people."

So far this year around 50 employees have left the company "of their own accord," said one of the SpaceX employees, although the reason for these departures was unclear. In total, SpaceX employs more than 6,000 people.

According to the SpaceX website, there were 22 job openings for the Redmond office on Tuesday.

SpaceX spokeswoman Eva Behrend told Reuters that the Redmond office is still an integral part of the company's efforts to build a next-generation satellite network.

"In light of the success of our latest Starlink demonstration satellites, we've taken the lessons and reorganized them to deliver the next design iteration in the shortest possible time," Behrend said.

She did not comment further on the reorganization or the launch window, but found that the strategy was similar to the fast iteration of design and test that led to the success of their missiles.

The managers released from the Redmond office included SpaceX Vice President of Satellites Rajeev Badyal, a veteran of technical development and hardware of Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard, and top designer Mark Krebs, who works in the satellite and aircraft division of Google. Krebs declined to comment and Badyal did not respond to a request for comment.

The management's restructuring followed Musk's over-acceleration of satellite testing schedules, sources said. Behrend from SpaceX did not comment.

A second source says that culture was a challenge for the last employees as well. Some of the managers were hired by nearby technology giants Microsoft, where employees were used to longer development times than Musk's known short deadlines. Another senior manager leaving SpaceX was Kim Schulze, who previously worked as a development manager at Microsoft. Schulze did not respond to a request for a comment.

"Rajeev wanted three more iterations of test satellites," said one source. "Elon believes we can do the job earlier with cheaper and simpler satellites."

As a billionaire and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., Musk is known for ambitious projects ranging from automotive electrification and rocket construction to high-speed tunnels.

According to a SpaceX Submission filed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2016, a Musk Trust owns 54% of SpaceX's outstanding shares


SpaceX has announced that it will launch its satellites in several stages by 2024. The goal of having Internet services for 2020 is "pretty much on track" with a first satellite launch by mid-2019, one source said.

OneWeb aims for a first launch between December and February 2019, while Telesat 2022 targeted for broadband services.

SpaceX staff told Reuters that two Starlink test satellites launched in February, called Tintin A and B, will work as intended. The company is refining satellite orbit after the US Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the satellites in orbit, has agreed to a request from SpaceX to expand the Tintins altitude range, sources said.

The FCC confirmed SpaceX's changes that were not previously reported, but declined to comment.

"We use the Tintins to investigate this change," said one of the sources of SpaceX staff. "They are happy and healthy, and we talk to each other a dozen times a day every time they pass a ground station."

SpaceX engineers used the two test satellites to play online video games at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and at the Redmond office.

"We streamed 4k YouTube the first week and played" Counter-Strike: Global Offensive "from Hawthorne to Redmond," the person added.


In March, the FCC approved Musk's plan to downslope the Internet signals from 4,425 small satellites launched into the standard near-Earth orbit – more than twice the total number of currently active satellites.

A SpaceX engineer told Reuters the company said it had inquired about 10,000 additional satellites to cover the bandwidth over the next 20 years. Behrend declined to comment on the plans and referred to an earlier FCC submission stating that another 7,518 satellites are being considered.

Such a move would keep it running to extend the affordable high-speed Internet access to billions of people in rural or suburban areas worldwide. The Satellite Industry Association, a lobby group, estimates that the global market for satellite broadband and television services has a value of $ 127.7 billion, outstripping the market for satellite launch services of around $ 5.5 billion ,

OneWeb of McLean, Virginia, is providing Internet services to approximately 900 satellites after collecting over $ 2 billion from SoftBank, the Coca-Cola Company and others.

Telesat, supported by Loral Space & Communications Inc., said on October 23 that it had conducted the first in-flight broadband live test on a satellite in near-Earth orbit, targeting 2022 for broadband services from a constellation of about 300 satellites.

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX boss Elon Musk talks to his staff as he leads the world's first private passenger aboard the SpaceX BFR launcher aboard the SpaceX aircraft, which is based in Hawthorne, California, USA, on September 17, 2018 is. REUTERS / Gene Blevins / File photo

SpaceX aims to provide Internet services by connecting its satellites to earth stations and mountable pizza-box-sized terminals in homes or businesses, according to the FCC application. The US broadband market is already dominated by several established communications companies, such as Comcast Corporation. Comcast declined to comment on the potential new competition.

While the SpaceX model has earned money for rocket reuse, it's not enough to cover the cost of some $ 5 billion for the development of its Big Falcon rocket that Musk may one day wish to fly to Mars.

"There had to be a much bigger idea for generating cash to essentially implement the Mars plans," said one of the SpaceX employees. "What's a better idea than throwing Comcast out of business?"

Report by Eric M. Johnson of Seattle and Joey Roulette of Orlando, Florida; Editing by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin

Our standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.