It sounds like SpaceX’s Starship program is getting another leadership change, and this time it’s a big one. SpaceX employee number 11, Gwynne Shotwell, the President and COO of the company, will now lead its development.
With Elon Musk distracted by Twitter, Shotwell will take charge
We are three weeks now since SpaceX founder Elon Musk finalized his purchase of Twitter, and it has so far been his main focus. Previously Musk’s time was mostly spent between managing Tesla and personally overseeing the development of Starship, SpaceX’s next-generation fully-reusable rocket. Now he seems to be hoping around Twitter offices, pushing changes to the app and its workforce.
According to The Information, Shotwell will take over control of Starship development as Musk’s time is pretty filled up between all his other companies. Shotwell started at SpaceX in 2002, heading up the business development department for the Falcon 1 rocket. She is now second in charge at SpaceX and is stated to be the main reason for SpaceX’s success.
Shotwell will replace Shyamal Patel, Senior Director of Starship Operations, who has overseen all of Starship’s flight tests since 2019 when he moved over from Cape Canaveral.
Starship failure not an option for SpaceX
Starship’s development has been a costly endeavor for the past few years. Some funding has come from private parties hoping to one day catch a ride around the Moon. But funding has also come from NASA, where it will be needed to land astronauts on the Moon as soon as 2025. Importantly for SpaceX, Starship will be used to launch their v2.0 Starlink satellites, which have been said by Musk to be very important to the success of the satellite internet service and future SpaceX ambitions.
Starship, now overseen by Shotwell, shows just how vital this program is to the company and that it cannot risk falling behind on its milestones. While we don’t know what SpaceX’s timelines are officially for Starship, HLS teams have reportedly visited the site several times and are happy with what they are seeing. However, we have been waiting on SpaceX to conduct its orbital flight test of a fully stacked Starship rocket for what seems like years, and we don’t seem much closer now than we were during February’s Starship event.
This change in management comes not long after we learned that Mark Juncosa, formally the head of Starlink, took over the technical leadership of Starship. Between these two well-respected leaders, it will be interesting to see what changes we see come to Starbase.
Tesla exec takes over as head of Starship production
A side note in The Information report details that an executive from Tesla who led the construction of Tesla’s Austin factory is now overseeing the production of Starship. While still formally employed by Tesla, Omead Afshar is currently the Vice President of Starship Production and will report directly to Musk.
Starbase, SpaceX’s facility that surrounds Boca Chica Villiage, contains large amounts of support buildings, tents, and structures to produce the massive Starship rocket. These facilities are employed by a small city of engineers to create both the Starship upper stage and Super Heavy booster that, when stacked on top of each other, is taller than most of the surrounding buildings.