SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently “may have at least seven” managers in order to accelerate the development and testing of satellites that can provide worldwide broadcasting, Reuters reported today.
SpaceX denied parts of the story, saying some of those managers left of their own volition and that the shots happened over a longer period of time than Reuters reported.
SpaceX has Federal Communications Commission approval to launch 4,425 low-orbit satellites between 2019 and 2027 in an effort to compete against ocean and ocean ISPs and to bring bandwidth to underserved and underserved areas. SpaceX is still seeking FCC approval of another 7,518 satellites. SpaceX’s “goal of having Internet service available by 2020 is “pretty much on target” with the launch of the first satellite in mid-2019,” one of the Reuters sources said.
But Musk apparently concluded that keeping the Starlink project on schedule required a management shake-up. In June, Musk flew to the Seattle area for meetings with engineers leading the satellite project, Reuters reported:
Within hours of the landing, Musk was able to have at least seven members of the senior management team of the program in the Redmond, Washington, office, the end of the debates on the speed with which the team is developing and testing its Starlink satellites, in according to SpaceX two. employees with direct knowledge of the situation.
Known for aggressively pushing deadlines, Musk quickly brought in new managers from the SpaceX company in California to replace a number of managers who were fired. Their order: The launch of SpaceX’s first phase of US satellites in the middle of next year, sources said.
A SpaceX spokesperson told Ars that the employees left the company for almost two weeks as part of a re-organization, and that at least two of the people left their own accord. Assuming the rest of Reuter’s report is accurate, that would mean five senior executives have been fired from the satellite broadcasting project in less than two weeks.
Musk wants “cheap, simple satellites”
Among the fired employees are SpaceX VP of Satellites Rajeev Badyal and top designer Mark Krebs, Reuters wrote. “Rajeev wants three more iterations of test satellites,” Reuters quoted one of its sources as saying. “Elon thinks we can do the job with cheaper and simpler satellites, soon.”
Reuters described a culture clash between Musk and employees hired from Microsoft, “where employees have embraced longer development schedules than Musk’s notoriously short deadlines.” Badyal is a former Microsoft employee, while Krebs previously worked for Google. “
The original version of the Reuters story incorrectly stated that another senior executive who previously worked for Microsoft had left SpaceX. Reuters corrected the story, and SpaceX confirmed to Ars that the employee still works for SpaceX.
Reuters wrote that SpaceX is “struggling to hire and retain staff” for the Starlink project, with 300 SpaceX employees currently working on Starlink. In January 2015, Musk said the Redmond office responsible for the satellite project will have “a lot of people, maybe 1,000 people” within three or four years.
SpaceX provided this information to Ars:
The SpaceX Redmond office is an important part of the company’s efforts to build a next-generation satellite network that can connect the world with reliable and affordable broadband service, reaching the previously unconnected. Given the success of our recent Starlink demonstration satellites, we have incorporated lessons learned and re-planned to allow for the next design iteration to be shorter in length. This is a very similar method of rapid iteration in design and testing which led to the success of Falcon 1, Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon.
SpaceX launched two demonstration satellites in February.
FCC to vote on another SpaceX request
SpaceX’s first satellites are planned to orbit at altitudes ranging from 1,110km to 1,325km, much lower than traditional broadcast satellites. The existing HughesNet satellite network has the voice height of about 35,400kmallowing for longer travel times than land-based networks.
As previously written, SpaceX has said it will offer speeds of up to one gigabit per second, with latencies between 25ms and 35ms. Those latencies will make SpaceX’s mission comparable to ocean and sea. Today’s satellite broadcasting services use satellites in very high orbits and therefore have latencies of 600ms or more, according to Federal Communications Commission measurements.
In March, the FCC approved SpaceX’s plan to launch 4,425 satellites, with certain conditions. FCC approval requires SpaceX to launch 50 percent of the satellites by March 2024, and all by March 2027.
in its November 15 meetingThe FCC will vote on SpaceX’s question to use more frequency bands and to launch audio additional 7,518 satellites. SpaceX has said that the second cluster of satellites will orbit at even lower altitudes in order to increase power and reduce visibility in densely populated areas. The FCC order would require SpaceX to launch 50 percent of these satellites within six years and the rest within an additional three years.
The FCC has also approved requests from OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat to offer broadcasting in the US from low-Earth orbit satellites.