According to The Information, Gwynne Shotwell, president, and chief operating officer of SpaceX, “will take leadership” of the organization’s Starship project and Starbase facilities, ostensibly filling in for Elon Musk while the CEO turns his attention to Twitter.
According to the CEO of Tesla and the inventor of SpaceX, Twitter is in a hazardous situation after being bought for an exaggerated $44 billion, burdening it with enormous debt.
Already struggling to make ends meet, Musk stated on November 10 that the firm is losing billions of dollars annually and might face bankruptcy if its plan to charge a membership for a verification badge (a service that was, in principle, previously free) isn’t very successful.
In addition to drawing the attention of the US Federal Trade Commission, poorly managed layoffs that affected half of all Twitter workers seem to have harmed the company’s technological prowess and led to the departure of multiple top personnel and executives. Musk will likely have to take time away from running SpaceX and Tesla to focus on Twitter for the foreseeable future if he wants the social media platform to survive, much alone prosper.
Gwynne Shotwell, the company’s second-longest serving executive behind Musk, steps in as “the adult in the room,” providing a steady hand to balance out Musk’s erratic leadership. Her sales prowess may have prevented NASA from placing a billion-dollar wager on SpaceX in 2008, despite the fact that she was hired in 2002.
However, NASA finally decided to place that wager just when SpaceX most needed it, and Shotwell went on to assist in securing additional several billion dollar launch contracts from all relevant industries.
After overseeing NASA’s first significant SpaceX contract in 2008, she was appointed President and COO, which she has held for 14 years. The Information’s story is thus fairly unexpected given that situation.
Shotwell was already somewhat in charge of the Starship program and Starbase operations by virtue of his position as chief operating officer.
It’s conceivable that she spent most of her time working on SpaceX’s Dragon, Falcon, and Starlink projects, but it would be almost hard for a COO with a stellar reputation to ignore a project that probably accounts for half (or more) of the company’s R&D budget.
More significantly, CEO Elon Musk believes that Starship represents the direction of all SpaceX initiatives. If the experiment is a success, the completely reusable rocket will be able to launch at least five times the payload of SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket for an amount that is even less than the smaller rocket’s already exceptional marginal cost of about $15 million.
At a fraction of the cost of today’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy ($70-100 million), Starship might become the highest-performing rocket in history thanks to its cheap launch costs and orbital refueling capability.
The combination of affordable launches and dependable refueling may eventually enable SpaceX to realize its ultimate goal: establishing a self-sustaining human presence on Mars.
In the near future, Musk previously said that SpaceX may go bankrupt if Starship wasn’t prepared to start launching the newest Starlink internet satellites in due time, without which the constellation would allegedly be a financial burden.
It is important to note that Starship is seen as a cornerstone that may secure the long-term viability of all of SpaceX’s initiatives, even if the CEO almost definitely exaggerated the seriousness of the problem.
The United States Space Agency (NASA) has been a staunch supporter of SpaceX’s Starship program since April 2021, when it awarded the company a $2.9 billion contract to build the system and produce a version of the rocket’s upper stage that can land humans and cargo on the Moon.
SpaceX received more than $800 million from the Human Landing System (HLS) contract in 2022 alone, and NASA’s commitment to Starship has made the program’s success even more crucial.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Musk would specifically request Shotwell, SpaceX’s top executive, to manage the project during his unforeseen absence.
It’s unclear whether she will delegate direct reporting to run other significant SpaceX initiatives on a daily basis or if the new role entails expanding her current Starbase and Starship control. However, it is fair to presume that Shotwell’s increased engagement won’t have a negative impact on the initiatives.
The Information claims that in the summer of 2022, SpaceX executive Mark Juncosa took over technical control of the Starship program. Juncosa is a brazen, unorthodox engineer who has effectively overseen the Starlink program since Musk ousted many too-conservative executives in 2018. Formerly acting alone in that capacity, executives Joe Petrzelka and Bill Riley now report to Juncosa, who in turn reports to Shotwell.