Starship Raptor engine crisis risks bankruptcy
Elon Musk is unhappy with SpaceX’s lack of progress in developing the Raptor engines powered by the Starship rocket.
He described the dire situation the day after Thanksgiving in a corporate email that CNBC received a copy of.
“The Raptor production crisis is much worse than it seemed a few weeks ago,” Musk wrote.
“We will face a real risk of bankruptcy if next year we cannot reach Starship’s speed at least once every two weeks,” Musk added later.
Starship is a huge next-generation rocket that SpaceX is developing to launch cargo and people on flights to the Moon and Mars. The company is testing prototypes at a plant in South Texas and has completed several short test flights. But to move to orbital launches, prototype rockets will require up to 39 Raptor engines each, which will require a sharp increase in engine production.
Musk’s email to SpaceX provides more information on the significance of former Propulsion VP Will Heltsley’s departure earlier this month. Heltsley was barred from developing the Raptor before leaving, CNBC reported, and Musk noted in an email that since then, management has delved into the program’s problems and found the circumstances are “much more serious” than Musk previously thought.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. Heltsley did not respond to requests for comment from CNBC.
SpaceX’s founder and CEO’s letter was the first reported from Space Explored, a division of tech blog 9to5Mac.
The Raptor engine program is a disaster
Take a closer look at the 29 Raptor motors underneath the Super Heavy Booster 4 base.
Musk wrote in an email that he plans to take a vacation for Thanksgiving. But after discovering the Raptor situation, Musk said he would personally work on the engine production line through Friday night and the weekend.
“We need all our hands to recover from what, frankly, was a disaster,” Musk wrote.
The billionaire’s founder has repeatedly called manufacturing the hardest part of building SpaceX’s giant rocket. The company is steadily expanding the Starship manufacturing and testing facility in Boca Chica, Texas, with multiple prototypes running at the same time.
Company The next important step in the development of Starship is launch into orbit.
Starship prototype test launches six of its Raptor rocket engines on November 12, 2021 in Boca Chica, Texas.
Musk said on November 17 that SpaceX “hopes to launch” the starship’s first orbital flight in January or February, pending FAA regulatory approval and technical readiness.
SpaceX wants Starship to be fully reusable so that both the rocket and its booster can land upon launch and be rebuilt for future flights. SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets are partially reusable. The company can regularly land and restart boosters, but not the top or stage of the rocket.
Musk said earlier this month that he was not sure if Starship would be able to successfully reach orbit on its first attempt, but stressed that he was “confident” the rocket would enter space in 2022. At the time, he also noted that the development of Starship is “at least 90% internally funded so far,” and the company does not anticipate “any international cooperation” or external funding.
Starship Is Critical To Starlink’s Financial Success
SpaceX has raised billions of dollars in funding over the past few years, both for Starship and its Starlink satellite internet project. the company’s valuation recently reached $ 100 billion.
But while SpaceX has already launched about 1,700 Starlink satellites into orbit, Musk said the first version of the satellite was “financially weak.” The company is steadily growing its Starlink user base, with about 140,000 users paying $ 99 a month for services.
Earlier this year, SpaceX outlined improvements for the second version of the satellite, and Musk said in an email that “V2 is strong,” but can only be effectively launched with Starship rockets.
To date, SpaceX has launched Starlink satellites with its Falcon 9 rockets, but Musk stressed that these rockets do not have the mass or volume required to effectively deploy second-generation satellites. This means that the success of the Raptor Engine program is also critical to the long-term financial stability of SpaceX’s Starlink service, which Musk talked about spinning off during the IPO.
Notably, SpaceX is currently ramping up production of its Starlink antennas “to several million units a year,” Musk said in an email, but they would be “useless otherwise” if Raptor fails.