It’s been nine months since SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, announced plans to put up a constellation of 4,000 satellites to provide global Internet service, and scores of employees are being hired in the Seattle area to start making it so. But today SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell signaled that the company is reconsidering those plans.
“I would say that this is actually very speculative at this point,” Space News quoted Shotwell as saying at the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia convention in Hong Kong. “We don’t have a lot of effort going into that right now.”
The project is technically doable, she said. “But can we develop the technology and roll it out with a lower-cost methodology so that we can beat the prices of existing providers like Comcast and Time Warner and other people? It’s not clear that the business case will work,” she said.
Shotwell’s comments are consistent with the cautious tone that Musk took during a Boston space conference in July. Back then, he emphasized that the satellite project was still just in its early stages. “I think the long-term potential of it is pretty great, but I don’t want to overplay or overstate things,” he said in response to a question about the plan.
A week before Musk made those comments, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket broke up, resulting in the failure of a robotic resupply mission to the International Space Station and forcing a months-long suspension of Falcon launches. An investigation traced the breakup to a faulty strut, and SpaceX is planning to return to flight in December – but the company has had to reshuffle its launch schedule due to the delay.
The office that SpaceX opened in Redmond this year is expected to play a lead role in developing the satellites for the Internet constellation, and all indications are that the work is continuing.
In fact, the company is advertising for 45 open positions in the Seattle area, including an internship for the fall of 2016. But based on Shotwell’s comments, it might take longer for the Seattle employment figures to rise to the 1,000 mark that some expected back in January.
We’ve reached out to SpaceX’s representatives, but so far there’s nothing to add to what Shotwell said in Hong Kong.