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Elon Musk’s leadership in SpaceX shaken by the departure of two vice presidents

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule on Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on November 9, 2021 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

The direction of SpaceX’s rocket business has been shaken, CNBC has learned, as two vice presidents have parted ways with the company.

The changes come with Elon Musk’s space company, now America’s leading rocket maker with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles. The company is also investing heavily in the development of its next-generation Starship rocket.

SpaceX’s vice president of propulsion Will Heltsley has left, several people familiar with the situation, who had worked at the company since 2009. These people have told CNBC that Heltsley has been taken out of Raptor engine development. due to a lack of progress. Raptor engines power SpaceX’s Starship rocket and Super Heavy boosters.

Heltsley’s departure demonstrates the intense pressure on engine development, given the key role he plays in Starship’s success. The company has successfully completed a multitude of test shots and flights with Raptor, steadily improving the engine. Musk recently said that a second generation of the Raptor engine “has significant improvements in all respects.”

“But a complete design overhaul is needed for the engine that can actually make life multi-planetary. It won’t be called Raptor,” Musk said in a tweet on November 16.

SpaceX’s Jacob McKenzie, who has been with the company for more than six years, now leads development and production of the Raptor engine, sources said.

A closer look under the Super Heavy Booster 4 base on the 29 Raptor engines.


Lee Rosen, SpaceX’s vice president of mission and launch operations, left last week, the people said, as did Ricky Lim, senior director of mission and launch operations. Rosen had been with SpaceX since 2013, while Lim joined the company in 2008.

SpaceX did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the leadership changes.

A handful of other long-time employees left after SpaceX closed its bid on Friday, the timing said by people familiar with the matter was in part linked to employee stock acquisition schedules. Although SpaceX did not raise any new capital on the secondary sale, the round was made at $ 560 per share, bringing the company’s valuation to $ 100.3 billion.

SpaceX had a banner year: the company launched 25 successful Falcon 9 missions, transported 12 astronauts into orbit with its Dragon capsules, expanded its Starlink satellite Internet service to around 140,000 users, and continued to grow with Starship.

Musk said last week that SpaceX would “hopefully” launch its first orbital spacecraft flight in January or February, which marks the next major step in rocket development. This launch is awaiting regulatory approval from the FAA, as well as technical preparation.

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