SpaceX reshuffled the personnel in charge of development for the Starship rocket, appointing president Gwynn Shotwell and vice president Mark Juncosa as its new overseers. They will take a more direct role in managing Starship-related facilities and operations.
Gwynn Shotwell and Mark Juncosa are two of SpaceX’s longest-serving senior employees. With the reshuffling, they will now oversee the Boca Chica test facility, which SpaceX calls “Starbase.”
Starship’s previous manager, Shyamal Patel, is moving to a position that will take him to Cape Canaveral in Florida, where SpaceX launches a lot of important hardware and NASA astronauts on its Falcon 9 rockets. It recently launched a classified payload for the U.S. military on its Falcon Heavy at Cape Canaveral – the first flight of SpaceX’s most powerful operational rocket in nearly three years.
A former Tesla operations manager named Omead Afshar is also moving over to SpaceX to serve as VP of Starship production.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Juncosa previously visited Starbase as part of a two-week review of development progress for Starship. Regulatory red tape was blamed for delays in a planned orbital test of the Starship/Super Heavy stack that has now dragged on for over a year. The FAA wanted an environmental review and also received an enormous number of public comments that needed to be reviewed. (Not a bad thing – it means the public is paying attention to SpaceX even if some of the comments might have been motivated by disliking Elon Musk rather than the technical aspects of Starship-related testing.)
Now Juncosa’s findings seem to indicate that conditions in the company may push the orbital test back even farther. NASA had said SpaceX told it that the orbital test could happen as early as December.
The conditions may include the 75 environmental-related issues that the FAA demanded that SpaceX address when it completed the environmental review in June. SpaceX has been fairly closed-mouthed about progress on resolving these issues.
Elon Musk also reported issues with producing the Raptor rocket engines. The vice president in charge of the Raptor was removed from management of manufacturing the engines and left the company. SpaceX now manufactures one Raptor engine per day. Last year, Elon Musk announced “breaking ground” on a new factory near Starbase that will manufacture the engine, which he says could help get those numbers up to 2 to 4 Raptor engines per day.
Starship will be critical for SpaceX’s future plans. It already has contracts to develop a Starship-derived lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis Program and send Dennis Tito around the Moon in a Starship spacecraft. SpaceX and Elon Musk have floated applications for Starship ranging from rapid point-to-point delivery of cargo on Earth to sending people to Mars.
Elon Musk is, of course, busy trying to figure out Twitter, which may be distracting him from SpaceX and Tesla right now. It might seem a little like watching a train wreck right now. However, things could get interesting, considering that Twitter recently filed a regulatory application to create a subsidiary that will serve as what regulators call a “money transmitter” – basically a payment processor like PayPal or Stripe. (Not financial advice, of course, but the Dogecoin community will be watching that like hawks – or vultures.)
So it may make sense that he wants executives he can trust to watch over things while he’s busy. Long-standing executives like Gwynn Shotwell and Mark Juncosa are most likely to be the people he trusts most to keep things moving with Starship.