Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX downsizing workforce as it ramps up Starship, Starlink programs

The latest version of the BFR design, now dubbed Starship and Super Heavy. Image Credit: SpaceX

The latest version of the BFR design, now dubbed Starship and Super Heavy. Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX says it is laying off about 10 percent of its roughly 6,000-employee workforce in a bid to “become a leaner company” as it works to develop its Mars spaceship and a global satellite internet constellation.

First reported by the Los Angeles Times, SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell sent an email to employees about the downsizing saying it was a “difficult but necessary” decision.

The completed Starship test article at SpaceX's Texas launch site. Photo Credit: Elon Musk / SpaceX

The completed Starship test article at SpaceX’s Texas launch site. Photo Credit: Elon Musk / SpaceX

“To continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company,” the company said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations. This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team.”

This comes after SpaceX saw a record-breaking 2018 with 21 orbital launches. However, with the new Block 5 variant of the Falcon 9, fewer rockets are expected to be built at its Hawthorne, California, factory as each first stage is planned to be flown 10 times or more. 

In 2019, SpaceX plans to continue its high launch rate, in addition to finishing the development of its Crew Dragon spacecraft. The first unpiloted test flight of the vehicle is planned as early as February, with the piloted mission planned for sometime in the summer.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is ramping up development of its Big Falcon Rocket, now known as Starship (the spaceship upper stage) and Super Heavy (the first stage). The project is expected to cost the company between $2 billion and $10 billion.

At the company’s Texas launch facility, which is still under construction, a prototype of Starship was recently completed. This “hopper” test article will not actually fly into space. Rather, it is designed to help the company understand the flight dynamics of the large vehicle, much like the Grasshopper test article did for the now common Falcon 9 first stage landings.

Company CEO Elon Musk has said that he expects the first hops to be within the next four weeks, but that is likely an optimistic schedule. Even so, those first movements won’t likely be more than several meters, just like the first flight of Grasshopper.

When fully developed, Starship/Super Heavy is expected to be used to send people and cargo anywhere in the Solar System. 

At the same time, SpaceX is developing a satellite internet constellation called “Starlink.” Not much is known about the company’s plans other than it hopes to have several thousand small, low-cost units placed in low-Earth orbit.

Two test satellites were placed into orbit in February 2018. Named Tintin A and Tintin B, these prototypes are in a 310-mile (500-kilometer) polar orbit and are used to communicate with testing ground stations in Washington and California.




Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

Reader Comments

So are all/most the job losses to be at Hawthorne ? It is just construction of Falcon 9 boosters that is being scaled back, or what other roles ?

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