Author Topic: The nature of risk-taking in space launch  (Read 2388 times)

Offline AncientU

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The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« on: 11/05/2017 01:00 PM »
This is an insightful article not directly related to space, but applicable nonetheless.

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Increasing risk appetite is vital for progress

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Speaking at a panel discussion at the Institute of Directors Scotland’s annual conference, the chairman of Dundee’s 4J Studios criticised the risk adverse nature of Scottish society.

He said: “We have got into a comfort zone of how we can remove risk from every part of our lives – our business, our personal lives, civic society, everything.

“That attitude is 100% wrong – we should be maximising our attitude to risk.

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“We need to decide whether we want our society to be competitive in the 21st century or not, and if we do we need to change to that type of risk model right across the country.

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Mr van der Kuyl pointed to Tesla founder Elon Musk’s moves into space exploration as a good example of someone taking risks.

“SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, said they were going to put rockets up and land them on a ship so they could reuse them and people laughed,” he told the delegates.

“One fell off the side of the ship and they said that’s OK, we’ll tweak the software.

“In a traditional risk model there would be massive enquiries, everyone would be sat round a table gnashing teeth, delaying things for 10 years until they could make sure there was no mistake.

“SpaceX just kept throwing them up until they got it right, which they did within a year.”
https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/business/business-news/538579/increasing-risk-appetite-is-vital-for-progress/

Is a capacity to tolerate risk the secret sauce missing from today's traditional aerospace programs?
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Online AbuSimbel

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #1 on: 11/05/2017 02:04 PM »
Yes, it is. We are witnessing a technological anomaly with Space Industry if compared to many other tech industries in the last 50 years. (Half)jokingly I could describe it as a deep rooted psychological block widespread in the industry where everyone celebrates a glorious past and keep struggling to go back to the good old times. What in reality were great engineering conquers only possible because of a trial and error, focus driven attitude have become myths, almost sacred endeavors. Of course the problem was developing safe launch systems.There's a reality however: safety only comes with experience, operational experience: failing, learning and redesigning. The problem is that's impossible when every failed attempt burns hundreds of millions (and every successful one too, I would add): it was impossible to acquire experience and improve safety through operational agility. So what did the 'failure is not an option' mantra bring to us when dealing with this reality? It became a cult, which come up with a costly answer to achieve the illusion of 'safety'. Procedures, procedures, procedures. A wide set of dogmas and rules to follow when designing, building and operating rockets that quickly became rituals, almost magic. That's the only way to make your hundreds of millions rocket 'safe': but be sure not to change anything, otherwise the ghost of an explosion appears in front of you. That's however a mere illusion of safety: it's a '100% safe rocket going by launch history' when it has launched less than 100 times since its maiden flight. The reality is that, as happens with religion, this cult only covers a lack of knowledge. We lack data points, we lack experience and we lack understanding of many possible failure modes. Rockets aren't mature designs and you can't reach maturity if you never let you fail. Since the seventies the Space Industry has been following the wrong way: the problem was developing safe systems when they are expendable and high cost and leave little room for experimenting. The answer has been to keep them expensive, expendable and develop procedures that only make them 'safe' because you launch them so rarely that you never really know. The new answer is different and more rational: get rid of the 'safety at all costs' mantra, at least for now, and focus on designing affordable, high cadence reusable rockets. Once you have that you can experiment and fail cheaply, and actually afford to obtain many real life data points. That's the only way to reach a real, solid and well understood safety. That's the only way rockets can reach airline levels of safety. And, most importantly, that's the only way we can finally get rid of that old, resigned 'space is hard' motto.
Failure is not only an option, it's the only way to learn.
"Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the custody of fire" - Gustav Mahler

Offline Lar

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #2 on: 11/05/2017 02:12 PM »
Fail early, fail forward, fail often.

If you're not falling, you're not becoming a better skier.

Failure to try is the biggest failure of all.

Lots of aphorisms. SpaceX gets this. There are some others out there who do too, but not enough.
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline meekGee

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #3 on: 11/05/2017 03:40 PM »
Fail early, fail forward, fail often.

If you're not falling, you're not becoming a better skier.

Failure to try is the biggest failure of all.

Lots of aphorisms. SpaceX gets this. There are some others out there who do too, but not enough.

All true, but also combined with disciplined engineering, and the balls to confront engineering challenges in-house, instead of "just" outsourcing everything.  That's development risk, not operational risk, but is equally important.
ABCD - Always Be Counting Down

Offline JAFO

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #4 on: 11/05/2017 03:58 PM »
I would add that it is society in general. No one's a Winner, no one's a Loser, everyone gets a Participation ribbon handed out in a safe speech zone.

Bullhockey.

I hate having a bad day in the sim and failing checkrides. But failure is part of life, you don't do everything right all the time, and I've learned that a perfect sim means the IP didn't push me hard enough to find my weak points. You have to fail. You have to hang out with smart people who disagree with you. You have to be challenged and make mistakes and fail so you can learn where the weak points are, and come back stronger. And you have to do the same to your contemporaries.


Through history, exploration often meant a one way ticket to whereever the ship was sailing, and they turned people away. If Space X offered a one-way ticket to Mars with a 99.9.....% chance of death within the first year, do you think they'd have a shortage of overqualified volunteers?
« Last Edit: 11/05/2017 09:29 PM by JAFO »
Anyone can do the job when things are going right. In this business we play for keeps.
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Offline AncientU

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #5 on: 11/05/2017 04:10 PM »
Risk tolerance.

If you boiled down the myriad reasons behind one young, private company building a rocket to land 150 tonnes or 100 people per flight on Mars and another prestigious, well-healed organization giving up on even landing on Mars -- though it has been promoting that goal for 40 years -- it would be these two words.
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Offline TripD

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #6 on: 11/06/2017 05:48 AM »
In the past human flights were rare and huge media events. Being that NASA was beholden to the politics of public perception, failure was a larger than life problem. Pun semi intentional.  I think the catch 22 is gaining enough success with the initial missions to lessen public scrutiny on individual flights.

Offline rakaydos

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #7 on: 11/08/2017 09:33 PM »
I would add that it is society in general. No one's a Winner, no one's a Loser, everyone gets a Participation ribbon handed out in a safe speech zone.
Speaking as an early millennial now in my 30s... Noone asked me if I wanted a participation trophy. It was never about us being entitled... it was about the older generation being able to say THEIR kid won something.
It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.
« Last Edit: 11/08/2017 09:35 PM by rakaydos »

Offline JAFO

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #8 on: 11/08/2017 09:41 PM »
I would add that it is society in general. No one's a Winner, no one's a Loser, everyone gets a Participation ribbon handed out in a safe speech zone.
Speaking as an early millennial now in my 30s... Noone asked me if I wanted a participation trophy. It was never about us being entitled... it was about the older generation being able to say THEIR kid won something.
It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

I love watching this video:




Check out the crowd of employees. I'm glad that Hidden Figures finally told their story, but the overwhelming majority of the early space program was a white men's club. In contrast, I see a rainbow of young people in the Space X video.


Your generation is going to Mars. I hope I'm around to see it. :cheers:
« Last Edit: 11/08/2017 09:58 PM by JAFO »
Anyone can do the job when things are going right. In this business we play for keeps.
— Ernest K. Gann

Offline Jim

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #9 on: 11/08/2017 09:52 PM »

It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

nonsense.  They are still being lead by other generations.  They are not doing it themselves.
« Last Edit: 11/08/2017 09:54 PM by Jim »

Offline rakaydos

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #10 on: 11/08/2017 10:01 PM »

It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

nonsense.  They are still being lead by other generations.  They are not doing it themselves.
Even Elon Musk and Gwen Shotwell are only "slacker" GenXers. (I couldn't find a birth date for Tom Mueller, so he's up in the air.)
« Last Edit: 11/08/2017 10:02 PM by rakaydos »

Offline AncientU

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #11 on: 11/09/2017 05:36 PM »

It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

nonsense.  They are still being lead by other generations.  They are not doing it themselves.
Even Elon Musk and Gwen Shotwell are only "slacker" GenXers. (I couldn't find a birth date for Tom Mueller, so he's up in the air.)

Median age at SpaceX is 29, so right in the zone for 'official' Millennial status (born 1980 to circa 2000), and tech savvy.  Cannot be too many older generation 'leaders', but no doubt there are some.  Age characteristic is like NASA of the 1960s -- just a coincidence, I'm sure.
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Offline Lars-J

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #12 on: 11/09/2017 05:45 PM »
Age characteristic is like NASA of the 1960s -- just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Obviously. :D

Offline John Alan

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #13 on: 11/09/2017 06:29 PM »

It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

nonsense.  They are still being lead by other generations.  They are not doing it themselves.
Even Elon Musk and Gwen Shotwell are only "slacker" GenXers. (I couldn't find a birth date for Tom Mueller, so he's up in the air.)

Median age at SpaceX is 29, so right in the zone for 'official' Millennial status (born 1980 to circa 2000), and tech savvy.  Cannot be too many older generation 'leaders', but no doubt there are some.  Age characteristic is like NASA of the 1960s -- just a coincidence, I'm sure.

Tom Mueller's age is not widely known...
But he started to college in 1979 (records show)...
My guess is he is the "Old Man" of the group in his mid/late 50's...  ;D

On edit... public records show...
GS is 53... EM is 46
« Last Edit: 11/09/2017 06:39 PM by John Alan »

Offline AncientU

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #14 on: 11/09/2017 08:38 PM »
NASA and Aerospace workforce:
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Our analysis in The Space Report 2012 showed that, as of September 2011, more than 70 percent of the NASA workforce was between 40 and 60 years old. By contrast, the age profile of the overall U.S. workforce was more evenly distributed, with less than 45 percent in this range. The NASA workforce also had small number of younger professionals, with less than 12 percent under age 35.

Almost mirror image of age distribution at SpaceX (and probably that of NASA in its glory years).

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The 2011 edition of the annual Aviation Week Workforce Study found that 22 percent of U.S. aerospace and defense company workers were 35 years or younger, a percentage that nearly matches those 56 or older.

https://www.spacefoundation.org/media/space-watch/aging-nasa-and-industry-workforce-creates-concern


« Last Edit: 11/09/2017 08:39 PM by AncientU »
"If we shared everything [we are working on] people would think we are insane!"
-- SpaceX friend of mlindner

Online Norm38

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #15 on: 11/13/2017 12:13 AM »
Back on topic, I wanted to discuss the Antares scrub Sat morning for range violation. What is the total cost to scrub a rocket launch because some fool in a Cessna or a boat ignores the keepout?  Now it's one thing if a plane is directly in the flight path. It's another thing altogether if it's simply under the flight path.

Future flight rates aren't going to allow that level of concern and schedule impact. If there is no danger to the rocket but only to those who put themselves in harms way, then go ahead and launch. And if that's the day that a rocket explodes, too bad for the Cessna. They were warned.
It actually makes the warnings less serious if they scrub for anyone. Just state simply and firmly, "At 1400 hours on Tuesday a rocket WILL launch, and you don't want to be under it when it does."

Offline alang

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Re: The nature of risk-taking in space launch
« Reply #16 on: 11/14/2017 05:30 PM »
I would add that it is society in general. No one's a Winner, no one's a Loser, everyone gets a Participation ribbon handed out in a safe speech zone.
Speaking as an early millennial now in my 30s... Noone asked me if I wanted a participation trophy. It was never about us being entitled... it was about the older generation being able to say THEIR kid won something.
It's "underpaid, overworked grad student" millennials that are bringing us back to space, the way the older generation couldn't.

Different people age differently.
My personal feeling is that the global wars and superpower rivalry that led to the first flowering of spaceflight raised a bar that was too high for normal times. Who does want to spend 5% of taxation on rockets (present nerds excepted)?
Maybe you are just now living in a time when more things are possible without needing global conflict to make them happen.

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