DISCLAIMER: I want to make clear that I am not picking on SpaceX here. If you read it that way, take a deep breath, check yourself, and put down all the water you’ve been carrying for billionaires.
A few weeks before the [OCISLY] barge was slated to go out on its first mission, our little Recovery team got a panicked phone call from headquarters saying they were worried that the barge wasn’t big enough for the rocket to land on. [...] With no time (and no additional money) we designed something that would technically work, but which in reality looked and functioned like shit. A paltry extra ten feet of reach was added on each side, spanning about 50 feet along the barge. As the missions went by, they rusted and dented up until we finally just cut them off and turned them into blast shielding.
Like a lot of programs trying to get to orbit, the next steps are picking up the pieces, reviewing the data, and figuring out how to try again [with Starship]. Elon is saying they will be ready to go in 1 - 2 months, which is simply not going to happen.
They told us we were dumb kids [during F9 development times], that we didn’t know what we were doing, and that we were going to fuck it up. They were mostly right, at various times, if I’m honest. It took a minute, but we eventually figured things out. Something changed, though, around the time we started landing Falcon 9 first stages. Suddenly, we weren’t the underdogs anymore; we were the leaders. That change felt odd, and I remember it happening in real time. [...] As the number of articles, books, videos, and personalities trying to make a living talking about SpaceX online multiplied, I noticed that a weird, decidedly male, scam-adjacent faction started to form.
A great example of a test that was widely and rightly derided was one by Pythom Space. [...] To be blunt, I see a lot more similarity between this test and the Super Heavy launch than I’d like to. Both were ill-considered, dangerous, destructive, and would’ve benefitted from some real soul searching about why the test was done as well as how it should be done safely. Both of these tests had the air of a circus and a “lol fuck it send it” mentality.
It’s important that we strive to conduct safe, well-considered tests knowing that things can go wrong, while minimizing the impact. I fear that by celebrating this test and spinning it as necessary progress, we may do more long-term harm than good to the space program and our approach to innovation.
the further someone is from the action, the less you should trust their excitement about a mission’s relative success. So just because someone sprayed people down with champagne after this Starship flight, as was widely reported, that doesn’t mean it was much of a success.
Keep in mind, that Starship has nothing inside of it except the tanks, valves, and wires needed to make it fly. There is no payload bay. There are no seats. There is no life support system. We don’t know if the re-entry tiles will work. Honestly, if this was any company other than SpaceX I would declare them toast. [...] while in my opinion this test was firmly on the crappy side of the “s/crappy” divide, that doesn’t doom them to remain there. [...] Until then, though, it would behoove the rest of us to judge everyone’s declarations of success equally, fairly, and with a critical eye.
really the interview sounds less like a critique
It’s a pretty natural journey to start out crappy, make mistakes that are pretty obviously crappy
Hindsight is wonderful. But it's difficult to fairly evaluate a situation if you don't know the whole context and you have the benefit of knowing what is going to happen next.For all we know there was really only one mistake. Or in other words the design of what I'm calling the floor of the launch pad. Every other failure could have been a consequence of that one failure. Now I doubt that. I'll bet there were issues that were separable from what happened with the pad.And that's part of the value of this test launch. Now they have data that can influence and change everything up to stage separation and maybe beyond.
SpaceX also would’ve had to wait 3 more months to get the better solution installed. So if repair and finish building that solution takes no more than 3 months, then SpaceX is actually STILL ahead and they couldn’t have done better even with hindsight (although I do think extra layers of refractory cement probably would’ve been worth doing with the benefit of hindsight).
Quote from: Robotbeat on 04/28/2023 04:44 pmSpaceX also would’ve had to wait 3 more months to get the better solution installed. So if repair and finish building that solution takes no more than 3 months, then SpaceX is actually STILL ahead and they couldn’t have done better even with hindsight (although I do think extra layers of refractory cement probably would’ve been worth doing with the benefit of hindsight).Plus, whatever solution was in work wouldn't have had the benefit of all this empirical data, so could have still been inadequate while costing more time and money to fix than what they do now.Basically, they just have to stop Stage 0 from digging itself a Stage -1. The jury isn't in on all the ways the rocket was compromised by its own ignition, but initial appearances are that it's a certified beast that got most of the way to MECO even after having taking a shotgun blast of concrete magma to the gut. So, depending on how well the OLM and OLT faired, things like reflected shockwaves and heat that normally have to inform GSE development might be a retired risk, and only the pad itself is left to deal with. Fix that one thing and the rest might be straightforward.
→ So, why the hell didn’t that same testing happen with the Super Heavy stage?I have no idea. The last static fire they conducted before launch didn’t even fire all the engines! Only 31 of the 33 engines were tested during that static fire. In fact, they never tested the full set of engines all together. That’s not testing like you fly. That’s not running a comprehensive test program.
George Mueller, shortly after being named NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, introduced the concept of "all-up testing" to the Saturn/Apollo program. Rather than traditional method of testing rockets, which called for a slow, methodical program, testing one stage before adding another live stage, "all-up" called for each rocket stage and each spacecraft module to be live and representative of the form which would be used in the actual lunar mission.
Starship may be the last chance for SpaceX engineers to make big mistakes that look really dumb. None of this stuff would be allowed on the Falcon 9 side of things.
Starship is the last hurrah for crappy or even scrappy at SpaceX.
Much of the organization has already evolved to a far more polished, process-driven, incremental approach to operations. Starship will get there, too. It has to, eventually, to be a successful workhorse that supplants Falcon 9.
But the idea they should run development the same way they need to run operations… is the path to a Blue Origin-like pace. It would’ve been impossible to develop for less than $100 billion.
They would’ve had to wait 3 months for the flame diverter to be installed. That’s STILL potentially longer than it’ll take to get a booster back on the pad now.