Robert Zubrin describes what sets Elon Musk apart from the other Space Entrepreneurs. Elon Musk applied his wealth but also his passion with savvy leadership to create the success of SpaceX. There is also an urgent and fanatical ambition. Elon Musk also has successfully applied the best aspects of software management and development to cars and rockets. Elon is also applying automotive and factory insights from Tesla to SpaceX.
There were and are other who tried to create space companies. Many had wealth or resources that were in the range of what Elon Musk has. They did not apply sufficient urgency, commitment and personal leadership to bring about success.
Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, backed Stratolaunch Systems. Jeff Bezos, who leads Amazon, funds Blue Origin.
Space companies have received nearly $26 billion in investments from 2009 to 2019. OneWeb has raised $3.4 billion. They raised $500 million round in 2015, a $1.2 billion round in 2016 and $1.25 billion in 2019.
Teledesic was a satellite constellation company with funding from cellular pioneer Craig McCaw, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
Bill Gates used technical and business leadership to build Microsoft. He had fanatical drive in the decades where he led Microsoft. Bill had business, software and technical capabilities that he applied with a fanatical drive to win.
Steve Jobs had fanatical drive that he applied to making great Apple products. This was combined with marketing, product and technical know-how.
Jeff Bezos applied his fanatical drive and urgency to building Amazon. Amazon has decades of doing whatever it took to grow as fast as possible. This urgency is not apparent in the development of Blue Origin.
How Does SpaceX and Elon Musk Improve Faster Than the Competition?
Kent Nebergall writes at macroinvent.com. Kent studied the success of SpaceX and Tesla. Elon brought methods from computer software development or other areas and applied them to cars and rockets.
Elon starts his engineering from first principles. He wants to know everything down to the physics of exactly why something is possible or impossible. He was thinking in terms of how much aluminum and how much titanium and fuel is used in a rocket. He compared the sum of the material cost and the rocket launch prices paid by customers of the rocket companies. Elon believed this could be many times cheaper.
Wood furniture is priced very closely to the cost of materials. Furniture has no price gained unless there is a highly skilled craftsmen who adds skill and artistry.
Elon next imagines what the perfect product would be like. He thinks of the Platonic ideal. Plato thought of the perfect sphere or perfect triangle. Elon considered the characteristics of the perfect electric car and the perfect rocket.
Skunk Works at SpaceX for Thermal Protection
SpaceX built an entire lab for thermal protection system research for re-entry vehicles. It became the best lab in the world in nine months starting from an empty room. They use rapid development cycles based on processes used for rapid fighter pilot reaction.
51% Experimentation Rule
SpaceX will test once they have a 51% chance of success. They will take the least amount of material that will get them valid results. NASA would wait until they had 80-90% chance of success and there would be lot more meetings about the work or process.
This more rapid testing leads to more rapid development.
SpaceX is planning Starship and Raptor engine gigafactories. In 2021, Elon Musk plans to scale the workforce at Boca Chica to 3,000 employees to eventually manufacture two SpaceX starships every week. There are currently 300 employees. This manufacturing rate will be comparable to the speed of construction of commercial wide-body airplanes.
Elon has said that mass production will bring the cost of the Starship down to $5 million. There will be six Raptor engines. This means the mass production of Raptor engines at less than $1 million per engine.
Larger buildings are being built in Boca Chica to shelter the construction. There will need to be a lot more buildings and a lot more heavy equipment to speed construction.
Airbus and Boeing Make 800-900 Planes In Normal Years. This is the scale and speed of production that Elon Musk wants to create for rockets.
Boeing and Airbus delivered 35 and 138 commercial jets in December 2019, compared to 102 and 127 deliveries, respectively, in the same month last year. For the full year 2019, Boeing delivered 380 aircraft, while Airbus set a new all-time annual record, handing over 863 jets. Boeing had retained a deliveries lead over Airbus since 2012.
SOURCES- SpaceX, What About It? Felix, Robert Zubrin, Boeing, Airbus, Wikipedia, Kent Nebergall at macroinvent.com, Additional analysis and Synthesis by Brian Wang
Written by Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com