In a companywide email acquired by The Verge, Space Explored, and CNBC, CEO Elon Musk warned employees of engine concerns far worse than originally understood. “As we have dug into the issues following exiting prior senior management, they have unfortunately turned out to be far more severe than was reported. There is no way to sugarcoat this,” the email cautioned. “We need all hands on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster.”
Musk’s messaging refers to the departure of former Vice President of Propulsion Will Heltsley, who left SpaceX last month after more than a decade with the company. Heltsley had reportedly been removed from Raptor engine development after not making sufficient headway on the project, and was replaced by Jacob McKenzie, who’d been with SpaceX for six years. Musk publicly stated that the second-generation Raptor engine was making some hopeful progress following Heltsley’s departure, but that a “complete design overhaul” would also be necessary.
Raptor is vital to the success of Starship, a supersized reusable rocket capable of carrying heavier payloads and reaching greater distances. Musk hopes to use Starship to take humans to the moon and to Mars. (Those familiar with Musk’s lofty goals know a significant chunk of his public identity relates to Mars travel.) Starship will require six Raptor engines on its own, while its first stage, known as the “Super Heavy,” will need 33. Musk was originally planning to launch Starship’s first orbital flight in January 2022, but this now looks very unlikely.
“The consequences for SpaceX if we can not get enough reliable Raptors made is that we then can’t fly Starship,” the CEO’s Black Friday email said. “We face a genuine risk of bankruptcy if we can’t achieve a Starship flight rate of at least once every two weeks next year.”
Musk tweeted a follow-up to the harrowing situation on Tuesday, saying few appreciate the magnitude of the Starship program and reiterating the goals of the Raptor project. Though SpaceX wasn’t necessarily headed toward bankruptcy, such a position wouldn’t be impossible for the company to find itself in, either. The tweets appear to have since been deleted.
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