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Originally published January 13, 2015 at 7:16 AM | Page modified January 14, 2015 at 6:18 PM

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SpaceX chief Elon Musk has high hopes for Seattle office

SpaceX chief Elon Musk predicted the company’s Seattle engineering office will ultimately employ “several hundred people, maybe a thousand people.”


Bloomberg News

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The world according to Elon Musk is about to get more ambitious — ranging from a Seattle engineering office to develop and launch satellites to the on-time delivery of a crossover electric SUV that will appeal to women.

The 43-year-old billionaire also said in an interview he’s optimistic his company — Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, the first commercial rocket-maker to deliver cargo to the International Space Station — will settle a lawsuit with the U.S. Air Force over satellite launch contracts.

Satellites will play a crucial role in Musk’s efforts to reach his ultimate goal of establishing a human settlement on Mars. Building a commercial satellite business will provide the entrepreneur with revenue and communications know-how that will eventually serve his Martian aspirations.

“We’re going to try and do for satellites what we’ve done for rockets,” Musk said from SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., predicting the company’s Seattle engineering office will ultimately employ “several hundred people, maybe a thousand people.”

Seattle visit

He told Bloomberg he’ll be in Seattle on Friday to announce further details, quipping that the local operation will be “a satellite office to create satellites.”

The company has already opened a local office and expects to have 60 employees in the short run, ramping up to as many as 1,000 in three or four years, he said.

While the office will focus on satellites, Musk said SpaceX might also hire here some top rocket engineers who “just refuse to live in L.A.”

Sounding very much like the executives at Redmond-based Planetary Resources, who aspire to send space probes to mine asteroids, Musk said building and launching smaller satellites with advanced technology is the strategy he intends to pursue.

That will allow SpaceX to “take a chance on the satellite not working” while quickly moving its designs forward, he told Bloomberg.

The company’s website currently lists six job openings for its Seattle-area office under the category “Avionics — Hardware Design.”

Musk’s visit here coincides with the arrival of SpaceX’s pioneering Dragon spacecraft, which is scheduled to be displayed at the Museum of Flight Saturday through Monday.

In May 2012, the vehicle — 24 feet high and 12 feet in diameter — became the first private commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to Earth.

Since then, Dragon spacecraft have routinely made the trip to the station, and SpaceX is preparing a modified version to carry humans.

The museum has few details of SpaceX’s plans. “We won’t get (the Dragon) until after midnight Friday night,” said spokesman Ted Huetter.

Musk’s other big endeavor, Tesla Motors, has changes in store as well. The Model X, designed to blend the best of a sport-utility vehicle with the benefits of a minivan, should debut in the third quarter as planned after earlier delays.

The vehicle will have advanced autonomous-driving features and is drawing more than half its orders from women, a big change from the Model S, which gets two-thirds of its sales from men, he said.

Next liftoff

Last Saturday, closely held SpaceX narrowly missed the first-ever bid to recapture a spent rocket, a key step toward reusing launch vehicles. Musk said he’s more confident the next liftoff, set for Jan. 29, will hit the mark, with a soft vertical touchdown atop an unmanned recovery vessel about the size of a soccer pitch or a U.S. football field.

Since winning a NASA contract in 2008, SpaceX has emerged as the lowest-cost launch provider in the commercial space industry and a competitor to aerospace titans Boeing and Lockheed Martin, NASA partners since the Apollo era.

“They’re getting the reputation for being a pretty gutsy company that’s willing to get things done,” said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Teal Group, a Fairfax, Va.- based consultant.

SpaceX is eager to expand its business with the U.S. government beyond NASA missions and wants to vie for some of the $70 billion the Pentagon may spend on satellite launches through 2030.

The company sued the Air Force last spring, accusing the service of creating an illegal monopoly for satellite launches.

Musk said he’s “hopeful” a settlement can be reached.

Information from Seattle Times staff is included in this report.



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