There was a production problem with the Raptor, the rocket engine for the Starship. An email Elon Musk sent to SpaceX staff painted a very sad picture of the situation: he was calling for general mobilization to raise the level.
Behind SpaceX’s real successes in aerospace, will an internal crisis erupt? An email sent by Elon Musk, the company’s founder, describes a critical situation, caused by a production problem at the Raptor level, the rocket engine that should serve for the Starship, the launcher that someday should replace Falcon 9.
” The consequences for SpaceX if we can’t make enough reliable Raptors are we won’t be able to fly the Starship, which means we won’t be able to fly the Starlink V2 satellite (Falcon * doesn’t * have the in-orbit mass required for the V2 satellite ). The V1 satellite itself is financially weak, while the V2 is strong reading the email, obtained by The Verge in Nov. 30, 2021.
In this context, Elon Musk sets the tone for the fight, asking his staff to be present – he presents himself as an example to follow, where he chooses to sacrifice his first weekend for free, but as well as some of his evenings, to work on production lines. ” We all need hands on deck to recover from what is, frankly, a disaster he said again.
Warning signs of the significant difficulties the company seems to be facing appeared a few weeks ago, with the departure of two SpaceX executives in November. CNBC reported on Nov. 22 that one of the two was involved in the development of the Raptor. The American newspaper then announced that his dismissal was ” due to lack of development “.
” Unfortunately, the Raptor production crisis is worse than it looked a few weeks ago. As we dig deeper into the issues following the departure of the former management, unfortunately they have become more serious than announced. There is no way to sweeten the situation “, continues the missive. In other words, it will make or break in 2022.
The future of the SpaceX machine? The Raptor
Currently, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets use another type of rocket engine, called the Merlin. The Raptor has been indevelop for many years – the craft was first executed in 2016, a sign that its design is back to normal. Since then, it has improved and partially integrated it into Starship prototypes to conduct more and more extensive tests.
Recently, the American company has developed a specific version of the Raptor, including the Raptor Vacuum. This is a variant that uses a regenerative cooling system. This one was tested for the first time in September 2020 at full capacity. Three copies of the Raptor Vacuum should provide the upper stage of the launcher. All other slots will be used by the Raptor.
Starship consists of two segments: the first is the main stage, called Super Heavy. It should accommodate 33 Raptor engines. The second is called Starship (like rocket in general) and should be powered by 3 Raptor engines and 3 Raptor Vacuum engines. Starship should make its first orbital flight in 2022 – this is the request of Elon Musk, who wants to do so in January.
It’s hard to gauge whether the situation in which SpaceX finds itself is so critical that the group’s very future is in danger of disappearing. Elon Musk has a reputation for sometimes overdoing his speeches. In his letter, the concerned mentioned the risk of bankruptcy if the Starship could not fly at least once every two weeks.
SpaceX’s business model is based in part on its satellite Internet access service, which it has been setting up for several years. This service, already available in several countries, including France, requires positioning thousands of satellites in low orbit, but also deploys ground stations to communicate with Internet users.
But to ensure the success of Starlink, the name of the service, it is necessary not only to have enough satellites in space, but also that these satellites are good enough in terms of bandwidth and latency. Now, the key part lies with the Starship shipping these engines … and the use of the Starship depends on the production quality of the Raptor engine.
The development of Starlink should be able to provide a regular source of finance to SpaceX, with relatively expensive subscriptions (about 100 euros per month, in addition to the purchase of all necessary equipment). Right now, the project appears to be a money pit, as huge amounts have to be spent to make these satellites and send them into space using a rocket.