SpaceX’s missile business leadership was shaken, CNBC learned, when two vice presidents split from the company.
The changes arrive at Elon Musk’s space company, which is now the leading US rocket builder with its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles. The company is also investing heavily in the development of its next-generation Starship missile.
SpaceX’s vice president of propulsion Will Heltsley has left the company, several people familiar with the situation told CNBC who have been with the company since 2009. These people said Heltsley was removed from Raptor engine development due to a lack of progress. The Raptor engines power the Starship rocket and Super Heavy boosters from SpaceX.
Heltsley’s departure shows the tremendous pressure on the engine’s development given the key role it plays in Starship’s success. The company has successfully carried out a large number of test ignitions and flights with the Raptor and has continuously improved the engine. Musk recently said that a second generation Raptor engine “has significant improvements in all respects.”
“But the engine that can actually make life multiplanetar requires a complete design overhaul. It won’t be called the 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 Raptor engine development and manufacturing, sources said.
Lee Rosen, SpaceX vice president of mission and launch operations, left last week, 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 to comment on the leadership changes.
A handful of other long-time employees left the company after SpaceX closed its offer to buy on Friday. While SpaceX did not raise any new capital on the second sale, the round closed at $ 560 per share – bringing the company’s valuation to $ 100.3 billion.
SpaceX has had a great year: the company launched 25 successful Falcon 9 missions, put 12 astronauts into orbit with its Dragon capsules, expanded its Starlink satellite internet service to approximately 140,000 users, and made further advances with Starship.
Musk said last week that SpaceX would “hopefully” launch its first orbital Starship flight in January or February, marking the next major milestone in the rocket’s development. This start is still pending regulatory approval from the FAA and technical readiness.