Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
SpaceX has reportedly fired several employees who were involved in writing and circulating an open letter that criticized CEO Elon Musk.
The firings were first reported Thursday by the New York Times, which noted that SpaceX employees began sharing the letter—which labeled Musk’s public behavior and social media activity as “a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment”—on Wednesday. Reuters subsequently reported that at least five SpaceX employees had been fired, though the exact number remains unclear. SpaceX did not return dot.LA’s request for comment.
The open letter was shared in an internal Microsoft Teams channel featuring more than 2,600 SpaceX employees, according to The Verge. The document called for the Hawthorne-based aerospace company to “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior” and to “swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.” Musk is a contentious presence on Twitter, which he is currently in the midst of acquiring via a $44 billion takeover bid.
“As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company,” the open letter read. “It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”
The letter also asked SpaceX to “hold all leadership equally accountable” for the company’s workplace culture and to “define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behavior”—adding that the company was failing to live up to its stated “no asshole” and “zero tolerance” policies.
In an email obtained by the Times, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell said the company had “terminated a number of employees involved” in the letter.
“The letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views,” Shotwell wrote. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism.”
This isn’t the plot of the latest Michael Bay film: Rocket Lab will use a helicopter to catch a nearly 40-foot rocket booster out of the sky.
It may sound like an action stunt, but it’s a key step toward the Long Beach-based aerospace company’s goal of competing with SpaceX and offering fully reusable rockets. While SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket uses extra fuel to reignite its engines for a soft landing back on Earth , Rocket Lab is hoping that it can recover its launch boosters as they fall in order to save costs.
The startup’s Tolkein-themed There and Back Again mission—originally planned for Friday but now delayed to “no earlier than May 1” due to weather conditions—will launch 34 satellites into orbit for commercial customers including Spaceflight, Astrix Aeronautics and Unseenlabs. It’s what happens after the rocket is launched, however, that Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck and his investors will most closely watch.
Here’s how it will go down: The booster will detach from Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket after it lifts off from the company’s New Zealand launch site. As it descends to Earth, a series of parachutes will unfurl in waves to curb its speed. As the booster descends, a customized Lockheed Martin Sikorsky S-92 helicopter equipped with a capture line and hook will fly by and, hopefully, snatch the booster out of the air—delivering it safely home for analysis and future use.
In the past, Rocket Lab has gone the conventional route and trawled the sea for boosters that fell into the ocean after launch, but Beck and his team are betting that the helicopter catch is a more effective and efficient way to reclaim parts. Rocket Lab ran a successful test and caught a dummy booster earlier this week; now, it’s time to see if it can pull off the real thing.
- Rocket Lab Buys Solar Panel Maker SolAero for $80M - dot.LA ›
- Rocket Lab is Designing a Twin Spacecraft to go to Mars - dot.LA ›
- Rocket Lab CEO Peter Beck on How He'll Compete with Spacex ... ›
Hadrian Automation, a startup developing automated manufacturing plants for the aerospace and defense industries in the Los Angeles area, has raised $36.4 million in new funding, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Hadrian, which is based in San Francisco but has operations in Hawthorne, secured the funding from a total of 28 different investors, according to the SEC filing. The identities of those investors were not disclosed. The startup previously raised a $9.5 million seed round last spring from the likes of Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital.
Hadrian aims to create highly efficient, completely automated factories that produce parts for aerospace applications including rockets, drones, satellites, and jets. Inspired by SpaceX founder Elon Musk—who once said of Tesla that “The factory is the product”—Hadrian founder and CEO Christopher Power told TechCrunch last year that he believes the space industry needs to overhaul its manufacturing setup if it wants to reach its full growth potential.
“If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business,” Power said. He noted that it would be faster and cheaper for firms to produce precision space parts if they invested in automated factories.
Automated aerospace manufacturing is now on the rise, with the likes of Long Beach-based firms Relativity Space and Rocket Lab deploying 3D printing to build rockets. Hadrian believes it can court some of these newer space players to use its robot-staffed factories.
Representatives for Hadrian declined to comment on the raise.
Hadrian’s team includes alumni from aerospace heavyweights like Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. Its head of quality assurance, Matthew Mueller, held several senior manufacturing roles at SpaceX over nearly three years. It also hired former Oculus head of mechatronics Simon Hallam as its head of engineering in June, and appears likely to use part of this funding to continue expanding its small team. As of last April, the startup reported a staff of eight people including Power, and its website indicates that it is actively hiring for jobs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.