SpaceX conducts three launches in two days amid internal disagreements

SpaceX conducts three launches in two days amid internal disagreements

SpaceX conducts three launches in two days amid internal disagreements

WASHINGTON — SpaceX completed a wave of three successful launches in just over 36 hours early June 19, days after an open letter within the company criticizing founder Elon Musk led to the firing of several employees.

The launches began on June 17 with a Falcon 9 launch from Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A. The rocket, taking off east at 12:09 a.m., placed 53 Starlink satellites in orbit. The booster used for the launch completed its 13th flight with a drone ship landing, setting a company record for booster reuse.

The second launch took place on June 18 at 10:19 a.m. from Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. The Falcon 9 launched the SARah-1 radar imaging satellite built by Airbus for the German military as a replacement for the existing SAR-Lupe system. SpaceX provided limited information about the launch, similar to limitations for classified US launches, but the German military later confirmed payload deployment and successful contact with the four-ton satellite. The booster, which flew two National Reconnaissance Office missions earlier this year, landed back at the launch site.

The last, and arguably most mysterious, launch took place on June 19 at 12:27 a.m. from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The only payload identified at launch was Globalstar FM15, a backup satellite for satellite operator Globalstar in low Earth orbit. That satellite was deployed from the top stage nearly two hours after launch.

Various aspects of the mission suggested that Globalstar FM15 was not the only payload on the launch. That included an unusual set of three burns to the top stage, and the landing of the drone ship’s first stage, even via the Globalstar satellite alone, weighing about 700 kilograms, was small enough to allow it to land back at the launch site. .

SpaceX initially did not provide video of the payload after the fairing separation, but did so after the second burn. Those views showed not only the Globalstar satellite, but also what appeared to be a payload adapter. That could mean that the rocket was also carrying one or more payloads that were deployed after the initial combustion of the upper stage. However, it could also mean that the launch was originally intended to carry additional payloads, but was launched without them.

Globalstar gave few details about its own satellite during the mission. The company did not announce the launch in advance. In a statement following the release of its quarterly results on May 5, Globalstar CEO Dave Kagan said the company planned to launch that land reserve “in the coming months” which, along with plans for a new set of satellites previously launched. in the year, “ensuring continuity of service to all of our existing and prospective subscribers, as well as to other users of the network.”

In its filing of its quarterly results with the Securities and Exchange Commission on May 5, the company said the “vast majority” of costs incurred in both preparing Globalstar FM15 for launch and the launch itself were paid for by an unnamed client. . That same customer is also financing nearly all of the cost of 17 new satellites that Globalstar ordered in February from Canadian company MDA.

internal criticism

The launches came days after internal criticism of SpaceX founder Elon Musk came out into the open. An open letter that circulated within company networks on June 15 said Musk’s public statements had become an “embarrassment” for some employees, distracting them from their jobs.

“Elon’s behavior in the public sphere has been a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment to us, especially in recent weeks,” the letter said. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and our potential talent pool that his message does not reflect our work, our mission or our values.”

The letter, first reported by The Verge, did not contain specific examples of Musk’s behavior, although there is arguably no shortage of such cases. That includes not only controversial tweets, but also a claim published in May that he sexually harassed a flight attendant on a SpaceX private jet in 2016, an account Musk has vehemently denied.

The letter called on SpaceX to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior” and “separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.” It also demanded that the company’s leadership be held “equally accountable” for addressing workplace problems, and that it better define its “zero tolerance” policy for unacceptable behavior. Company sources, speaking in the background because they are not authorized to speak publicly, said they believed several hundred employees approved the letter before it was taken off company networks.

Neither Musk nor SpaceX have publicly responded to the open letter. However, in a memo to company employees on June 16, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said it had fired “a number of employees” involved in the open letter. The New York Times first reported the layoffs.

Shotwell claimed in the memo that “the letter, requests and general process left employees feeling uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign something that did not reflect their opinion.” Spreading the letter, she said, went against company policy “and does not demonstrate the strong judgment required to work in this very challenging space sector.”

Shotwell said the letter was a distraction for the company as it was working on activities including the three launches coming up. “We have 3 launches within 37 hours for critical satellites this weekend,” she wrote, as well as work on the Dragon cargo and crew spacecraft and “on the eve” of an orbital spacecraft launch. “We have too much critical work to do and we don’t need this kind of exaggerated activism.”