Design Con 2015
Breaking News
Blog

Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it

Blog
5/3/2012 05:05 PM EDT

 20 comments   post a comment
NO RATINGS
View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/3/2012 6:36:07 PM
NO RATINGS
Since this was posted SpaceX and NASA have announced another delay in launching SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station. The company says it is still testing and verifying spacecraft software. Given the column above, this is a good indication that SpaceX executives understand the risks associated with this mission. According to reports, the problem SpaceX engineers are grappling with involves potential interference with space station systems caused by Dragon spacecraft electronics. We're continuing to track this.

Slotnick
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
Slotnick   5/3/2012 7:59:05 PM
NO RATINGS
I hate the term "controlled explosion". Someone thought it was slick, but it's not. Nothing is exploding, it's just the generation of a directed stream of high temperature, high kinetic energy gas.

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/3/2012 10:00:13 PM
NO RATINGS
Noted

markwrob
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
markwrob   5/3/2012 10:01:45 PM
NO RATINGS
I understand and agree with Mr. Musk's statement that successes are useful to help the learning process. Successes do show one that a good outcome is possible and the process flow is in the right area. For a firm in the early stages of product or service development, the sucesses are as important as the failures for sources of learning. When maturing the product or service, the failures are often key feedback to improve the performance and quality required of the system. SpaceX is developing products and services with more verification and validation tools and more history (i.e. records of successes and failures to study) in the same industry than ever before. Will that be enough to ensure contractual success without any occupational fatalities or injuries? I can't say I'd bet the farm yet. However, I wish Mr. Musk and SpaceX all the best, for I believe that it is through endeavors like his current one, relatively open to review, that space exploration and commecialization will effectively move forward.

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/3/2012 10:43:47 PM
NO RATINGS
Musk and SpaceX have several things going for them. One is that the engine cluster on its Falcon 9 booster have already undergone significant testing. What SpaceX ultimately needs to get crews into orbit is a better second stage engine. Homer Hickam of "October Sky" fame tells me that an upgrade to the trusted Apollo J2 second stage engine, the J2X, could be used by SpaceX for manned flights. The upcoming cargo mission to the space station will tell us much about whether SpaceX has its act together.

markwrob
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
markwrob   5/3/2012 10:46:50 PM
NO RATINGS
Agreed! Thanks, George.

lonestar1
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
lonestar1   5/4/2012 7:53:13 AM
NO RATINGS
"What SpaceX ultimately needs to get crews into orbit is a better second stage engine." No, the Merlin engine is just fine. The only thing stopping them from putting crew on Dragon right now is the lack of a launch escape system, which is a NASA requirement.

Bert22306
User Rank
CEO
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
Bert22306   5/3/2012 11:40:32 PM
NO RATINGS
When someone asks you whether failure or success teaches us more, the answer they obviously WANT to hear is "failure." In a panel discussion, is it not more interesting if the panelists don't each parrot the other? Honestly, I have to believe this was more of a case of semantics, and making yourself noticed among the other panelists, rather than anything with deep philosophical significance. If someone had asked me, I would have said that failure, without subsequent success, teaches us very little. You need success before you can "learn" any lesson, or the only thing you'll have learned is that "it can't be done." So, what's more important? I suppose it depends on whether you want to get anything accomplished!

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/3/2012 11:52:14 PM
NO RATINGS
This is off topic, but relevant for space weenies like me: The moon reaches perigee on Saturday night, coincidentally when full. According to Smithsonianmag.com, "As one of the most spectacular supermoons in years, the moon will appear 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when it is on the far side of its orbit." Don't forget to look up Saturday night: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2012/05/the-biggest-supermoon-in-years-is-coming-saturday-night/?utm_source=smithsonianinsider&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201205-insider

lonestar1
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
lonestar1   5/4/2012 7:44:33 AM
NO RATINGS
"As head of the only commercial space company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, to send a spacecraft into orbit and return it to Earth in one piece" At the risk of being pedantic, SpaceX is not the only commercial space company, and its vehicle didn't actually returned to Earth in three pieces -- two stages, one capsule. (Probably more than that, actually, since the rocket stages normally break up on reentry.)

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/7/2012 12:33:53 PM
NO RATINGS
I of course was referring to the Dragon spacecraft, not the entire Falcon 9 stack. We are also aware that there are many other commercial space companies that receive less attention than SpaceX. We have written about them here: http://confidential.eetimes.com/business-models/4229640/From-Chip-Guy-to-Rocket-Man and here: http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-news/4219195/Image-gallery--Aerospace-tech-in-the-desert

sharps_eng
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
sharps_eng   5/4/2012 9:23:26 PM
NO RATINGS
As an engineering website, we can widen out the question: and it comes down to the unglamorous arena of Testing. Testing is where science meets engineering, and because of that you learn more from failure. When your widget passes its stress test, you haven't learned what you need to know, which is how much lighter or cheaper you could make it. That saving could then be diverted into improving the weakest link in the system elsewhere. Pushing test out to after launch, whether literally or not, is dumb and irresponsible engineering and bad science, no least because you can't instrument a disaster properly and you certainly can't repeat it at will. When it fails you will have discovered what the margin of safety might be. Testing is scientific research at its finest. No-one said it isn't exciting flying by the seat of your pants, sure, and there are plenty of barnstormers who can't believe they are being paid to take risks as test pilots. But no-one gives them passengers when they take up a new craft to plot its flight envelope. 'You never learn anything by being right'

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/7/2012 5:42:04 PM
NO RATINGS
The latest on SpaceX launch to the International Space Station: NASA says the new launch date for the oft-delayed flight of the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship to the space station is now scheduled for May 19. Presumably, SpaceX engineers are still testing and verifying spacecraft software.

motti2
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
motti2   5/7/2012 6:18:13 PM
NO RATINGS
If there is no escape capsule, Elon ought to be the 1st test pilot, on the first manned Space X mission :-)

Duane Benson
User Rank
Blogger
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
Duane Benson   5/7/2012 8:06:53 PM
NO RATINGS
This phrase is really key in my mind: "It is at the critical point of failure where the engineering lessons are found." I suspect that many people think of failure in terms of forgetting to tighten a bolt. In general, that sort of failure just tells you that you have poor workmanship and poor quality control. The most useful type of failure comes from pushing a design well past its limits and seeing wear those limits are, or ensuring that the are far enough above the safety margin. When I hop on a Boeing 777, I don't want to know that the engineers designed it to withstand 150% of the maximum predicted load. I want to know that they stressed it until it failed and that the failure was passed the 150% design strength. If the wing doesn't pass, then you get to see where and how it will likely fail and you can address that area. If it passes, then you've learned that it is as strong as you want it to be.

DrQuine
User Rank
CEO
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
DrQuine   5/8/2012 3:42:56 AM
NO RATINGS
Elon Musk is a remarkable man with a remarkable career behind him which continues to surprise us all. That said, I would take issue with the comment that "there are no prior precedents for success in creating an orbital space company, really". Actually from the earliest rocket launches, many countries have started up successful space launch programs. Most of these programs have a combination of government funding and private enterprise engineering effort. The evolutionary process continues.

george.leopold
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
george.leopold   5/9/2012 6:13:17 PM
NO RATINGS
Here's what "Rocket Boy" Homer Hickam had to say about the early days of rocket testing at what became NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.: At Huntsville, “they had the solid example of the German rocket scientists who were extremely practical guys. They didn’t believe in flying anything until they tested it until failure. They would run [rocket engines] until they blew up. And they knew exactly the parameters within [which] these engines worked, and what was fragile and what wasn’t and what needed to be beefed up and what didn’t. As versus today, they test it on a computer and they don’t really know. You plug in a bunch of numbers, but you don’t really know.”

bearchow
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
bearchow   5/10/2012 12:13:26 PM
NO RATINGS
The last sentences remind me of the way many companies are being managed now (as opposed to being managed by people who understand their customers and their products).

gmsamaras_eet
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
gmsamaras_eet   5/23/2012 4:06:02 PM
NO RATINGS
Come on, guys! That queston is specious. We learn BOTH from successes (what to do) and from failures (what not to do). Neither is superior to, or more valuable than, the other. GM Samaras Pueblo, CO

kyoung2112
User Rank
Rookie
re: Elon Musk and testing as if your life depended on it
kyoung2112   5/29/2012 1:44:09 PM
NO RATINGS
Congrats to Elon and SpaceX for a successful rendezvous with the International Space Station!

Flash Poll
Like Us on Facebook

Datasheets.com Parts Search

185 million searchable parts
(please enter a part number or hit search to begin)
EE Times on Twitter
EE Times Twitter Feed
Top Comments of the Week