back to article Spektr-R goes quiet, Dragon splashes down and SpaceX lays off

While China's rover kept on trundling, the news was not so cheery for workers in the US space sector or radio telescope fans over the past week. 10 Iridium satellites go up, 10 per cent of SpaceX workforce to, er, just go SpaceX celebrated the launch of 10 more satellites for Iridium and the erection of its crew-capable Dragon …

  1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    Translations please

    When you include a quote in a foreign language - PLEASE include a translation into English (or at least American !!) below the quote.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Translations please

      It's included above the quote: "US scientists managed to pick up the carrier signal of the telescope, indicating that all is not quite lost just yet."

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Translations please

      No issues reading it here :)

      The initial announcements in the Russian press on the subject were rather interesting. Apparently the telescope is schizophrenic by design. There is a core and science package and you talk to them totally separately. The core is still talking albeit behaving erratically. The science package unfortunately looks like completely dead.

      While at it, it is not a good week for Roskosmos. It looks like someone, somewhere is starting to get VERY UNHAPPY with tier 2 nations having space observation capabilities equivalent to the big boys. Egypt failed to get insurance for their observation SAT replacement to be launched by Roskosmos which is supposed to replace the previous one which suffered a fate nearly identical to Spektr-R.

      I agree with the article - the likely root cause of both (and there will be more to come) is the embargo on space grade electronics which USA has been enforcing quite vigorously lately.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    isnt making

    your company "LEANER" usually a precursor to selling all or part of it? I know hes got troubles in the tesla dept (end of tax subsidy) and maybe he needs a good injection of middle eastern oil money . SPaceX is worth $45Bn Dollars (£44Bn ) ...

    1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

      Re: isnt making

      I was under the impression that if you want to sell your company, it's advantageous to have some built-in bloat. That makes it more attractive as potential purchasers can immediately find ways to cut operating costs and get better value from their purchase.

      I am no businessman though, just a mere wage-slave, so YMMV

    2. Dabbb Bronze badge

      Re: isnt making

      It's quite interesting that after all billions of injections from NASA in form of money, engineers, factories, technologies, patents, access to launch pads and air force bases SpaceX is still widely regarded to be a private independent enterprise and not what it really is - covert privatization of NASA.

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Several things happening

      SpaceX must have about 10 Falcon 9 boosters by now. Enough for 800 launches (assuming 1 Falcon heavy booster). The production line still has to produce second stages but those only need one engine each. Until now, block 5 boosters has been disassembled and reassembled for each re-launch to prove they do not need to be disassembled and reassembled for each re-launch. Dropping the launch cadence and reducing the amount of taking things to bits is going to hit those staff requirements twice.

      BFR has changed. The booster is still carbon fibre composite but the space ship is now stainless steel. SpaceX no longer needs to work out how to re-apply ablative heat shielding on Mars so the space ship can get back to Earth (Stainless steel will not need the ablative coating). Different skills will be required to make the shiny new space ship so some staff will no longer be needed an SpaceX has about 400 job openings.

      There is some actual money stuff. SpaceX can borrow loads of money but the interest rates are bad. The new plan involves borrowing less money to keep the interest payments manageable. Musk does decimate his staff every couple of years. This did not damage SpaceX last time.

      1. roytrubshaw
        Headmaster

        Re: Several things happening

        Kudos for the correct use of 'decimate', though I thought it was only applied to losing legions.

        I think most people are worried by the sheer impersonal nature of it, though I've read elsewhere that they automatically receive two-months wages, so that's something.

        My sympathies lie with the 10%.

    4. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: isnt making

      'lean' isn't necessarily a precursor to sell-off. It's more likely just standard operations.

      a) you hire a boatload of people [usually as contractors] to perform a specific task, like product bring-up.

      b) once their task is complete they're "let go" [unless you have some other task to do]

      c) you enter 'maintenance mode' on this newly brought up "thing", which has a smaller staff focused on different *kinds* of things.

      d) sometimes you bring back or laterally transfer laid off "development" engineers to do the "maintenance" phase but it's going to be a smaller number of people, regardless.

      It's the way engineering works. I've dealt with this as a contractor for a very, very, long time. You have to plan for it and work with it, not against it. Sometimes a successful project looks SO good you're snagged up by the next guy very quickly.

      However, in Cali-fornicate-you at this time, things aren't so good (I'm avoiding the explanation as to why, though it involves the 2018 election results, among other things). So it might mean "re-locate to Texas" for those guys. I'm actually looking at that possibility myself...

      In any case, if you want the 'big bucks' being on the cutting edge of engineering (in this case, rocket science), it comes with short-term and long-term contracts and occasional layoffs.

      /me points out, most specifically for the millenials, that a job is *NOT* an entitlement. It is an agreed upon fair exchange of work for money, and is NOT a guarantee. Competition determines who gets hired and who gets fired, like a form of 'natural selection'. You can call this 'social Darwinism' if you want to. Because it _IS_. And, it is as things SHOULD be.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Redundancy by email is undoubtedly the classy way to do it rather than an old-fashioned face-to-face meeting"

    Having experienced redundancy (though not always as a participant) in both the US/California and the UK then both versions have their problems. Maybe "redundancy by email" may seem a little brutal but I was in a Caliofornia company where on a friday morning they announced a 10% reduction at 9am and over the next 3 hours everyone sat at their desks waiting to hear if they were being called to a meeting room for their "face-to-face meeting" and by noon 10% of the company were no longer in the building. On the UK side its different - you get a letter informing you that you (or technically your job) is "at risk of redundancy" and then you enter a "consultation period" where you have a series of face-to-face meetings where (if its not a total site closure) you are effectively given a chance to argue why they should keep you and then only at the end of the consultation period (possibly legally required to be as long as 45 days) do you get notified if you are actually being made redundant. So, "face-to-face" meetings can also be pretty brutal and in many ways the Californian system of announcing that there will be redundancies followed swiftly by notification of who is being made redundant may be better than the UK method of either keeping everyone in suspense not knowing if they are going for a 30-45 days or, what can be worse, saying that there is a proposal for a site to close but for the next 30-45 days they have to consult to see if anyone has a "cunning plan" to prevent this ... when in reality everyone knows the decision has been made and it just delays the ability to move on for another month and a half.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      In the UK what usually happens is that as soon as redundancies are mentioned all the good (employable) folks leave immediately leaving the dross to fight it out.

    2. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      UK method is nicer

      The UK method does give you time to look for another job while the pay is still coming in. It also allows time to arrange and hold a farewell party if desired.

      The bosses do not like it because they are paying money for not much productive work but the (ex)employees have a slightly easier time financially - knowing that the pay will stop in 30 days is easier to deal with than if it stops immediately.

      1. imanidiot Silver badge

        Re: UK method is nicer

        It also means the bosses have about a month of staff being able to finish or transfer their work in an orderly fashion, whereas the US system of instant redundancies often leaves many things in limbo and creates utter chaos for those left behind to clean up the mess.

        1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

          Re: UK method is nicer

          It also means the bosses have about a month of staff being able to finish or transfer their work in an orderly fashion

          In my experience, the soon-to-be-redundant staff get paid but don't come into work. It's too much of a risk that an employee with a grudge will steal something, damage something or commit some other nefarious act out of spite or revenge. It's safer for management to just give them a few weeks of paid leave.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: UK method is nicer

        In one UK workplace I was at where redundancies were made, the directors insisted on everybody working their redundancy period. We lost about £12k in kit that developed legs during those four weeks.

      3. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: UK method is nicer

        I expect that ANY kind of 'guarantee' of severance pay is going to be a hiring 'hurdle' and affects the bottom line, so it ALSO affects your pay level. I'd rather take the risky path, work as a contractor, and get paid better for it, with the occasional unpaid vacations that you can generally plan for.

        keep in mind - taxing businesses, putting employment requirements on businesses (from requiring they pay for benefits, give certain levels of vacation, or pay you for severance) is ONLY going to increase the costs to employers, which affects the bottom line, and ALSO causes them to limit their hires accordingly [and then WORK YOU HARDER to compensate]. This same argument can be used to explain why a minimum wage is ALSO bad, because it fixes the cost of hiring at something HIGHER than what a job might be worth...

    3. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Redundancy by email is undoubtedly the classy way to do it rather than an old-fashioned face-to-face meeting.

      From other reporting, there was a company-wide meeting where President and COO Gwynne Shotwell and CEO Elon Musk made the announcement. The meeting was not mandatory, so there were some that first found out via email, but it was not the primary method for communicating the news to the company as a whole. It's still a crappy situation, though.

      Here's an article that goes into a bit more depth on that aspect of the story:

      https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/14/elon-musk-gwynne-shotwell-spacex-layoffs-announcement-detailed.html

  4. Anonymous Cowerd

    Spektr-R was only supposed to last 5 years

    so it's already exceeded its lifespan...

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Spektr-R was only supposed to last 5 years

      I think NASA has set the standard for "exceeds expectations" with Pathfinder/Sojourner and other more recent Mars-bots. But I agree, 'exceeded its lifespan' should be celebrated.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Spektr-R was only supposed to last 5 years

      I find it interesting that it's rarely if ever been mentioned in the western press until now.

      Maybe because it's doesn't produce pretty pictures like Hubble does for the meeja.

  5. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Accumulations of cosmic radiation?

    Urrrr. I think there's a translation slip there - I'm guessing RosCosMos would be better than that - Accumulated affects of cosmic radiation perhaps?

  6. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Stainless Steel?

    I'm puzzled by the use of stainless steel skin on the BFR (or whatever it's called now) capsule. Isn't there a severe weight penalty for using the stuff? I do recall some aircraft using it, but using it for spacecraft seems like the weight would be a big downside.

    1. Carpet Deal 'em

      Re: Stainless Steel?

      Fins aren't the most useful thing, either(even the Saturn V Mk II that got mooted at the time lacked them). I highly doubt practical concerns are being given a single iota of attention they don't absolutely need.

    2. Long John Brass Silver badge

      Re: Stainless Steel?

      I think it was Scott Manley that suggested the reason maybe that Stainless Steel would make for a good reflector of the heat from the plasma generated by re-entry

      Where is my Stainless Steel Rat icon damnit!

    3. Brangdon

      Re: Stainless Steel?

      Apparently carbon fibre is stronger at room temperature, but steel is stronger at cryogenic temperatures and a lot stronger at high temperature, so steal wins overall for this application. It is a very specific type of steel - apparently SpaceX have their own foundry now, and developed a new alloy for the engines.

      The steel is a good conductor, so they'll be able to use active cooling instead of a heat shield, which saves some weight overall and is also better for reuse.

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