SpaceX delays Starlink launch as Elon Musk warns team of Raptor engine ‘crisis’

Forecast show 90% chance of favorable weather

Dozens of SpaceX Starlink satellites jam packed into a Falcon 9 rocket fairing after launching from Cape Canaveral in May 2019.

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – SpaceX teams at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station opted to delay the company’s next launch by about a day, setting the stage for a Thursday evening liftoff with dozens of Starlink satellites.

The delay also came less than a week after founder Elon Musk warned of an internal engine production “crisis” at SpaceX that could ripple out to future Starlink missions.

The delay means the company’s 32nd batch of internet-beaming satellites will now fly from Launch Complex 40 on a Falcon 9 rocket no earlier than 5:57 p.m. ET Thursday, according to News 6 partners Florida Today.

SpaceX has neither confirmed the launch itself nor offered any details about its timing, but federal maritime filings and hazard warnings issued by the Space Force confirm it’s on the schedule.

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The Space Coast-based 45th Weather Squadron also issued a refreshed forecast on Wednesday, further confirming the delay. Forecasters said conditions should be nearly 100% “go” around the pad with additional criteria – upper-level winds, drone ship recovery weather, and solar flare activity – noted as “low-risk.”

“Low-level moisture will continue to be rather limited so any cumulus clouds that are able to develop will be very isolated,” Space Launch Delta 45 forecasters said Wednesday. “The primary concern for launch day will be the cumulus cloud rule.”

The delay comes on the heels of a company-wide email sent by Musk the day after Thanksgiving, noting that engines being developed for the next-generation Starship platform are in “production crisis.” Starship and its Super Heavy booster are being developed to launch the next generation of Starlink satellites, known as V2, and eventually put humans on the moon and Mars.

Because the combined rocket uses dozens of engines, SpaceX will need to produce hundreds or even thousands of Raptors in order to meet the cadence that Musk demands.

“There is no way to sugarcoat this,” Musk said in the email obtained by The Verge. “Unless you have critical family matters or cannot physically return to Hawthorne, we need all hands on deck to recover from what is, quite frankly, a disaster.”

Musk did not say exactly what the problems were, but even one small production issue can have large ripple effects when applied to the number of engines needed. There is, however, no effect on SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy offerings, which are flying at unprecedented rates and have helped the company achieve a nearly $100 billion valuation, according to CNBC.

“The consequences for SpaceX if we can’t get enough reliable Raptors made is that we then can’t fly Starship, which means we then can’t fly Starlink Satellite V2,” Musk said. “Satellite V1 by itself is financially weak, whereas V2 is strong.”

Musk said SpaceX is increasing production of user terminals needed to access the Starlink network to “several million units per year,” which will be an incredibly expensive undertaking. The new terminals will need Version 2 satellites to reach their full capacity and deliver internet to potentially millions of customers around the world.

Musk ended his all-hands note by said SpaceX faces a “genuine risk of bankruptcy if we cannot achieve a Starship flight rate of at least once every two weeks next year,” but did not offer further details on how that could happen.

Launch Thursday, Dec. 2

  • Rocket: SpaceX Falcon 9
  • Mission: 32nd batch of Starlink internet satellites
  • Launch Time: 5:57 p.m. ET
  • Launch Complex: 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station
  • Trajectory: Northeast
  • Landing: Drone ship
  • Weather: 90% “go”