In a company-wide email acquired by The edge, Explored space, and CNBC, CEO Elon Musk warned employees of engine problems much worse than originally thought. “While we looked at the issues that followed the exit of the previous senior management, they unfortunately turned out to be much more serious than what had been reported. There’s no way to water that down, ”the email warned. “We need everyone on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster.”
Musk’s post refers to the departure of former Propulsion VP Will Heltsley, who left SpaceX last month after more than a decade with the company. Heltsley was reportedly taken out of Raptor engine development after making insufficient progress on the project, and was replaced by Jacob McKenzie, who had worked at SpaceX for six years. Musk has publicly stated that the second-generation Raptor engine is making encouraging progress after Heltsley’s departure, but that a “complete design overhaul” would also be required.
Raptor is essential to the success of Vessel, an oversized reusable rocket capable of carrying heavier payloads and reaching greater distances. Musk hopes to use Starship to take humans to the Moon and Mars. (Those familiar with Musk’s lofty goals know that an important part of his public identity is tied to Travel to mars.) The spacecraft itself will require six Raptor engines, while its first stage, known as “Super Heavy,” will require 33. Musk was originally. Planning to launch Starship’s first orbital flight in January 2022, but that now seems highly unlikely.
“The consequence for SpaceX if we can’t make enough reliable Raptors is that then we can’t fly Starship,” the CEO’s Black Friday email said. “We face a real risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship theft rate of at least once every two weeks next year.”
Musk tweeted a follow-up to the heartbreaking situation on Tuesday, saying few appreciate the scale of the Starship program and reiterating Project Raptor’s goals. While SpaceX wouldn’t necessarily be heading for bankruptcy, such a position wouldn’t be impossible for the company either. The tweets appear to have since been deleted.