Tim Dodd, The Everdayastronaut, did a walkaround interview with Elon Musk on the grounds of Starbase, the birthplace of Starship. Although Elon uses Starship to illustrate many of the engineering lessons, it is obvious these were etched into his brain while trying to scale up Tesla into a high-volume producer of electric cars.
Part 1: Engineering Philosophy
5 Step Process
- Make requirements less dumb - Your requirements are definitely dumb. It does not matter who gave them to you. It's particularly dangerous if a smart person gave them to you because you won't question it enough. Everyone is wrong some of the time.
- Try to delete the part or process - If you are not occasionally adding things back in, you are definitely not deleting enough. What ever requirement or constraint you have, it must come with a name, not a department. You must ask a person, you can't ask a department. A person must take responsibility. Otherwise there can be requirements by a department that nobody today in that department believes in.
- Don't hedge your bets - Simplify and optimize. This is only the third step, because it is a common thing that engineers optimize things that shouldn't exist in the first place.
- Accelerate cycle time. This is fourth because you don't want to dig your grave faster. Stop digging your grave.
- Automate. Remove in-process testing when end-process testing is established.
- An interesting note about the early Starship blow-ups: all blew up for reasons not on the risk list. That shows how important frequent testing is to finding edge-cases.
Part 2: Trade-Offs
Main problem of the Space Shuttle was that there was no room for innovation. The engineers knew about most issues but were too afraid to change anything because there were humans on every flight.
The goal of the first flight of the full Starship stack is to get to orbit without blowing up. The best case would be for the booster to relight engines and splash down in the Gulf of Mexico and for the ship to splash down in the Pacific near Hawaii.