SpaceX's new, Seattle-area satellite design office has quietly opened, and, presumably, early work has begun on Elon Musk's planned array of satellites that will be able to provide WiFi internet to any spot on Earth.
In January, Musk announced the plan to launch as many as 4,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit. These satellites will form a communications constellation capable of providing fiber-like speeds to customers all over the world, which may allow the company to undercut current broadband prices.
SpaceX Redmond may one day house as many as 1,000 engineers and aerospace experts, but today it's got about 60 people working there, according to Washington state government officials.
"There are people in there working—they haven't had an official grand opening or anything, but they've had people there for months," Alex Pietsch, director of Washington's Department of Commerce Office of Aerospace, told me. "They have 60 people here to begin with, but they may be growing to as many as 1,000."
"There's people here working on other SpaceX programs besides the satellites"
SpaceX did not respond to several requests for comment from Motherboard, but local Seattle publications have also said the company's office is open.
Pietsch was among those invited to Musk's original announcement back in January. He said he's not sure whether the satellites will actually be manufactured in Redmond or whether they will just be engineered and designed there.
"There's people here working on other SpaceX programs besides the satellites," he said.
Redmond is home to Microsoft and the greater Seattle area also features Amazon's headquarters and major engineering offices for Google, Apple, Twitter, Alibaba, and Facebook. SpaceX is the newest company to move in, but he says that, already, the company has made quite a buzz. SpaceX did not receive any tax incentives from the state to open the office there.
"SpaceX brings us a notoriety and high profile brand that's really opening people's eyes around the country. They're looking at us as an emerging space hub," he said.
Pietsch said in the past, Facebook specifically opened an office in the city because potential hires didn't want to leave for Silicon Valley, and he suspects SpaceX may have done the same.
"They've had trouble recruiting talent from the Seattle area and getting them to move to Hawthorne, [California]," he said. "That's how Facebook now has 400 people here—their office started because they wanted two people from Microsoft who refused to move to the Bay. Now, it's their second largest engineering office."
Already, it appears as though SpaceX has poached some local talent from its competitors. According to a LinkedIn search, SpaceX has hired several engineers away from Microsoft, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and Boeing.
"We've got an interesting nexus between aerospace and software development—a lot of strength in both," Pietsch said. "Seattle is a place where companies want to be."