Elon Musk’s rocket company is laying off 10% of its workers. With about 6,000 employees in California, Florida, Texas and Washington, the cuts could amount to some 600 people without jobs.
A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed the news first reported by the LA Times, saying that “to continue delivering for our customers and to succeed in developing interplanetary spacecraft and a global space-based Internet, SpaceX must become a leaner company.”
Coming the same day as SpaceX’s first rocket launch of the year, the firings show the challenging evolution SpaceX is undergoing to meet founder Elon Musk’s solar-system wide ambitions.
Today, the company used a Falcon 9 rocket to launch 10 Iridium satellites into orbit. Development of that vehicle, the only reusable rocket in operation, is largely complete, and SpaceX has captured much of the global commercial satellite market.
Now, the company is seeking to launch and operate a satellite communications constellation of its own, an idea called Starlink that was backed by a $1 billion investment from Google in 2015, and develop a heavy-lift spacecraft called Starship capable of carrying humans to the moon and Mars.
“Either of these developments, even when attempted separately, have bankrupted other organizations,” SpaceX’s statement says. “This means we must part ways with some talented and hardworking members of our team. We are grateful for everything they have accomplished and their commitment to SpaceX’s mission. This action is taken only due to the extraordinarily difficult challenges ahead and would not otherwise be necessary.”
SpaceX, like most space technology companies, is years behind the projections it made when setting these goals. Last year, Musk fired members of the Starlink team because of the slow pace of the project. Now, SpaceX executives say they are prepared to launch the first operational satellites of the broadband internet constellation in 2019, and Musk revealed the image of a prototype of the Starship that is expected to do short, atmospheric test flights in Texas this year.
SpaceX will still see cash flow from plans to launch 18 Falcon 9 rockets and two Falcon Heavy rockets, including a mission for NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
The layoffs today show the pressure on its bottom line. The privately held company, valued at more than $30 billion by its investors, has been searching for new funds: In 2018, SpaceX reportedly sought to raise money on the corporate bond market, before ultimately raising $500 million in new equity, according to the Wall Street Journal.