Technology Progress = Iterations Times Progress Between Iterations

Elon Musk has noted that progress in any given technology is simply # of iterations * progress between iterations. SpaceX has successfully completed six major iterations and is on its seventh rocket version iteration. SpaceX has existed for eighteen years and has shortened its development time from six years to about two years.

This is why SpaceX is crushing all of its competitors like United Launch Alliance, China, Russia, Ariane and Blue Origin.

Here is the pace of SpaceX progress. SpaceX is doubling annual launch capacity every two years and has almost completed its journey to full reusability. The Starship could further evolve from reusable once month to once a week to three times per week to daily. They will then accelerate beyond doubling every year.

Iteration 1- SpaceX Falcon 1 was the first rocket. It had a payload capacity of 670 kilograms (1,480 lbs.). It flew from 2006 and 2009. Three launch failures, successful dummy payload in 2008 and a commercial launch in 2009. It took six years to get to the first successful dummy payload launch.

Iteration 2- SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.0. They started development in 2005 and launched in 2010. It flew five launches from 2010-2013.

Iteration 3 – SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 flew in 2013. The Falcon 9 v1.1 is a 60 percent heavier rocket with 60 percent more thrust than the v1.0 version of the Falcon 9. It includes realigned first-stage engines and 60 percent longer fuel tanks, making it more susceptible to bending during flight. The engines themselves have been upgraded to the more powerful Merlin 1D. These improvements increased the payload capability from 9,000 kilograms (20,000 lb) to 13,150 kilograms (28,990 lb).

Iteration 4 – SpaceX has a reusable first-stage Falcon 9 by 2014.

Iteration 5 – Falcon 9 Full Thrust had five sub-variants. The Full Thrust version of Falcon 9 is an upgraded version of the Falcon 9 v1.1. It was used the first time on 22 December 2015.

The first stage was upgraded with a larger liquid oxygen tank, loaded with subcooled propellants to allow a greater mass of fuel in the same tank volume. The second stage was also extended for greater fuel tank capacity. These upgrades brought a 33% increase to the previous rocket performance. Expendable: 22,800 kg (50,300 lb), 15,600 kg (34,400 lb) when landing

Iteration 6 – SpaceX Falcon Heavy launched in Feb, 2018. It can launch 63.8 tons of low earth orbit. The first stage boosters can be recovered. It has had three successful launches and is scheduled for one launch in 2020 and three in 2021.

Iteration 7 – SpaceX Superheavy Starship could launch to orbit late in 2021.

The pace of prototype construction is now about one every month and will be one every two weeks within 3 months and will be two every week by the end of 2020.

SpaceX went through six versions of the Merlin rocket engine and has developed the new Raptor rocket engine.

SOURCES – SpaceX, Wikipedia
Written By Brian Wang,

54 thoughts on “Technology Progress = Iterations Times Progress Between Iterations”

  1. Sounds about right. Their are people who will take your life for a lot less and there are people who would risk their life for a lot less.
    Based on average productivity a human life is only worth about $4,000,000 once you minus what society invests in the person.
    Should note that people are the most valuable asset a nation has. The American people are worth about $1,320 trillion.

  2. Now we agree on something. Grey area. Black would be the 2 million Americans will die from Corona. White would be it’ll kill almost no one without pre existing condition. Grey would be it will kill the same number of people as about 2 years worth of Flu. I will throw in some pragmatic fact as well. America is opening up while having a million active cases. 25%-50% of infected people are asymptomatic. Which leads me to my original point. It’s magical thinking to think most people will not get Covid eventually.

  3. @Mark Stwart don’t get sanctimonious. How low an opinion you have of my family’s life & others in general where you think we must, the nation must, lose their jobs, their businesses, the economy crash, so you can hide out pretending you can avoid a virus which in the long run is going to get you or not as it was destined to. You do know people are not having ‘elective’ surgery, and other critical treatments because of either dictatorial edicts from gov’s or near hysterical (on the left) fear inflamed by media. Those people deserve the same consideration as your family.

  4. its a bizarre thing, risk aversion/ tolerance and how it informs people’s politics and world-view. I remember one of the Die Hard movies where the Special Forces team leader sent in to save the hostages said (approximately) “…well we’re going to lose probably 20 – 30 hostages when we go in, but I am ok with that collateral damage…” and how that caused so much more of an uproar in the audience than any of the other violence or craziness in the movie. Google: ‘statistical value of human life’. amazing.

  5. I’m sympathetic. This was over-reaction, unpreparedness, and utter lack of coordination from above. Southeast Asian countries go through limited runs of these things almost annually. Even under ideal lockdown conditions there is no way that the virus would ‘go away’ in less than 6 weeks under the most optimistic model – and I challenge anyone to find a peer-supported epidemiologist model that shows it is possible in a minimally functioning G20-or-better State.
    That being said, I am absolutely not sympathetic to anyone who hasn’t saved at least a few months of money and have some form of semi-liquid assets that can provide half-a-year of no income total support. Are we all government employees with guaranteed pensions so we live life in the moment without thoughts of any interruption -or- are more than 30 years away from retirement, so its ok to have retirement savings of less than $10k? As much as I mourn the losses, I love having 4-6 weeks of ‘my time’ with every entertainment service functioning. When will this ever happen again?
    The Big worry is what the surrounding world will look like upon re-opening – because a 90% economy is a nightmare. 25% of small stores, restaurants, cafes, and local services permanently closed. What is that?-20% unemployment of all retail and service industry employees for an extended period (3+ months?). City and big town main streets will be very different and sparse and very big-chain like. Malls? Even the mind-boggling new debt? How to deal?

  6. The only reason I’m mentioning US libertarians over others is that they seem to be the ones here at NBF that are downplaying the threat of the virus … Chinese, Iranians, Europeans, and cruiseship crew, not so much. Texan John Smith and his ilk can snog as many fellow US libertarians as he wants and ignore any social distancing measures. Just stay over there. I don’t even want Eastern Staters coming here to WA or fellow kiwis from NZ. We are doing our bit economically with our iron ore, LNG, nickel, and gold exports. I work in the minerals industry and if we can keep COVID low we are going to be able to keep industry ticking over.

  7. The vast majority of diseased foreigners spreading plague into our fair country came from the pestilent hellholes of Iran, China, Europe and cruiseships.
    The pestilent hellhole of USA is obviously a risk, and are rightly banned from the clean corner of the Pacific ocean, but don’t hold them up as worse than any other neo-leper-colony.

  8. Consider this. Let’s say you sign a contract with a construction company to design and build a super-high-tech office building for your business. Would you actually agree to pay unlimited additional costs associated with a continuous “iterative” design/build/test/fail process used by the contractor to learn a new construction process? You wouldn’t. And normally, federal government contracts include a SOW that specifies what the vendor is required to do.

  9. If an extreme statement is incorrect, this means the opposite must be correct. Black and white are the only two colours.

  10. Maybe SLS could be launched on a Super Heavy in order quality for a successful orbital flight. Unfuel, of course. How much would that weigh?

  11. Greed or Ambition or a Dream can blind one’s eyes. As driven as he is, he still needs to learn to chill and STFU.

  12. I wouldn’t say them are clutching their pearls. I would say that their respect for my and my famiy’s life is pretty low. Kind of like people who drive drunk. They are not the only ones who would like to go out and have a good time. I would like to do so also. The virus continues to infect because some people don’t care. If everyone cared and obeyed the rules the virus would be gone in about two weeks.

  13. I can tell you have never lived in a place without a government. You should try it for a while. It would give you a different perspective. Let me give you an example of the chaos that happens without the law and order provide by government. A group of men beat my little cousin to death. They said he was stealing. No evidence was given. There was no trial. And that was the end of it. And stuff like that happens all of the time. Women and girls are raped. Men beat their wives. And people are murdered for the simplest disagreements.

  14. The only demographic variation that matters is age distribution. And in the US it is similar all over. What you are seeing is just different point in time and different multipliers. In the end if there is no vaccine the result will be very similar. The brutal fact is that about 80% of the population will get infected and about 1% will die giving us about 2.5 million. Social distancing can lower the death count while we wait for a vaccine. Be aware that the project death count giving by the President is number of people dead by August. People won’t stop dying in August. In fact people won’t stop dying until we stop the virus.

  15. It is actually the willingness to spend money on improving your technology. At the start you have to burn your own money. If you are lucky or good and you start making money you then get to spend your customers money.

  16. What f’n twisted logic is this where people who want to carry on with life are considered clutching pearls? Moronic at best. It’s a reductionist argument made by true cowards or people enthralled with the nanny state, which maybe the same. This isn’t a zombie plague, there is no 100% infection/death rate and this exercise was never sold as stopping the infections, they are going to happen no matter what, it was about slowing the rate in order not to overwhelm the system. How strange it is the least restrictive states are the ones doing the best. We’ve spent 7 to 9 TRILLION $’s on this so far. That money doesn’t come from the money tree. The value of that money is based on GDP. No GDP, no value. Print endless supply of money, money loses value. Destroy the economy then tell us how important it is to hide “clutching your pearls” in fear of a virus less deadly than the flu. No buddy you have it backwards, you hide, it seems to agree with you,

  17. Let me preface this by saying that I am glad that Elon and his ilk are alive, have influence, motivate grand schemes, and, happily, are generally allowed to get away with their questionable personality, management, and political values to impressive ends.
    So, with a community, town, state, whatever (i am not american, so I imagine the equivalent), there is a general vibe/ value system/ motivation that rises above the general noise of the area. It could be described as blue collar, red, academic, right-ish, rural, urban, hip, whatever… providing opportunities for work, play, schools, business, etc., for the locals. However, with Elon: I think of Walmart. Dominating. Large ideas bred upon a platter of common sense, flashes of grand technology, larger than life goals, and a down-to-earth relatableness of simpler technological values. But tight management, with serious financial goals, and minimal tolerance of averageness under his control. He conquers. Who loses? some, many?
    The counter-point is a high tech University. An MIT, CalTech, etc. A questionably-sustainable wonderland and community of discovery, idealism, and adoration of varying esoteric and grandiose ideas. What gets done? What kind of people come, stay, leave and what do they contribute to the world as a whole. What is the nature of the community – intensely competitve, driven. Sometimes. Not always. What is the right mix? When too dominant? We’re ok now, but 5 years? Remember Gates in 2000? Megalomaniac to fall?

  18. As a Kiwi currently living in Western Aussie I agree. Keep those disease infested US libertarians out. Here in Western Aussie, a state 7 times the size of Germany, we have 0 hospitalised cases and 7 known cases outside of hospital. We have stopped routine travel from other counties and other states to here. That is the way I like it. Disease infested US libertarians can suck on each other’s tongues and gun barrels to their hearts content but stay over there.

  19. 80% of people that go on ventilators die anyway. There are now 1 million active cases of Covid. You say we would have had a million deaths. Looking around my Midwest area last night people are gathering at places in large numbers, restaurants etc. Actual question for you Tom because I have an open mind. Most people will get the virus over time so won’t 1 million people still die? We have no extra treatment or vaccine and restrictions are being lifted. Look at the pictures of the newly opened bars in Wisconsin this week for reference.

  20. I stand corrected. We will eradicate the novel corona virus from the world in short order. Every SARS based virus better watch out.

  21. I find it strange that he is criticising people for applying the exponential equation on virus growth, yet is still OK with estimating exponential growth when it comes to his own companies.

  22. The number of blacks and their higher fatality rate has a very minor impact on total fatalities – maybe 2% higher in NYC than the national average (based on your own numbers).
    The poster you responded to referenced NY State, not NY City, though of course the latter is part of that. His fundamental point is valid – NY State infections were less controlled than the rest of the US, and without the shutdown all states’ fatalities would look a lot more like New York.
    Without the shutdown, we’d have hit the much-desired ‘herd immunity’ back near mid April – along with easily a million deaths due to hospitals being overwhelmed, and an economic meltdown that makes our current one look puny.

  23. The moment I read herd immunity at the end I disregarded the entire reply.

    Advocating herd immunity is another way of saying just let natural selection determine who survives a pandemic – there’s no science in it what so ever, it’s a political strategy at best, and a rather barbaric one at that.

    You might as well just throw out the last 200 years of medical scientific development and just go back to leaches.

  24. We have not defeated communicable disease over the course of human history.

    Except smallpox, rinderpest, polio, and mostly TB, measles, whooping cough etc. etc.

  25. not quite everyone. herd immunity would keep a large portion of the population from getting it, regardless of circumstances.

  26. NYC is a terrible sample to extrapolate to the whole country. not only are the demographics different, but 99% of the rest of the country doesn’t have nearly the same amount of public transportation or population density that causes things to spread. And since the spread rate is higher in NYC, it takes a higher % of the pop there to reach herd immunity effects.

  27. They may not be looking at a factory now – but when they do, they’ll know what works and what doesn’t in the manufacturing process. I wonder if the material’s so thin that they can’t use spin-welding?

  28. They did a study of the deceased in Italy and only about 1.1% of the deaths were among the less than 55 years old (the median age of the deceased was like 80 years old).

    And of those below 55, nearly 100% had comorbidities, like hypertension , pre-diabetes and diabetes and of course, obesity.
    I’m not implying that the dead don’t count or matter, but the immense majority of the young will be fine if they aren’t obese or seriously sick beforehand.
    These people are the ones in the workforce, moving the economy, producing and keeping the rest cared and fed.

    The focus should be in the high risk populations, and over keeping them safe and fed.

    But given this is airborne, with pre-symptomatic transmission and so damn easy to get it from touching any object, it’s almost certain nearly everyone will get it.

    Again , it sucks for the populations in risk. But this is the way the world works since the very beginning, we just pretended it’s different now. The old and frail die first, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

    (Yeah, I already had it last month and yes, I’m distancing).

  29. Yes, they are refining even the construction process.

    They have no time nor interest in making a super efficient factory now.

    That will come, eventually, when they have the Starship and SH basic models working and tested. Then it will be production in series (the Raptor engines are already there).

  30. Musk’s definitely running under a different paradigm. Instead of exotic (and expensive) materials that’ve been machined to perfection, he’s going ‘Do we need to do things this way? Can we do things a different way? Can we use less-expensive materials, and not construct everything in a Class 100 clean room?’

    And he’s getting results, gaining knowledge, changing things on the fly. If something doesn’t work, do something different to get to the same end. It’s amazing to watch.

  31. I was trying to be generous there. I still have fond memories of NASA pre the ’70s…

    Dang. Time flies when you’re waiting for launches… 😉

  32. I think launching very big rockets at sea similar to the Sea Dragon is part of the natural progression. I would generate a lot of foam in the water during and just prior to the launch analogous to the spray they use to dampen the sound for land launches so animals in the ocean are not adversely affected by the sound.
    No rent to pay. No size limit. Reduced insurance costs…and liability. Less grumbling about the noise. It can land on the ocean too, so no difficulty finding somewhere to land. Can launch at the equator for increased efficiency. I wouldn’t go the one-engine route…but 100 little ones is a bit silly too. Maybe 10 engines…so SpaceX would need another larger engine.
    I think it is also possible to weigh the rocket down so it is totally submerged and release the weight at launch giving it upward velocity, saving fuel at launch and making a bit less noise in the water. You would have inflatable airbags on the released weight, so after launch, you can inflate the bags and recover the weight for reuse.
    There would also be airbags on the rocket giving it a lot of buoyancy, which release at the surface. Ideally, the rocket can ignite the instant it is out of the water. The released airbags can be quickly pulled by lines away from the rocket before the rocket exhaust incinerates them.

  33. I think they are actually learning by doing. A bit awkwardly, but learning. And they are doing it in plain view.

    A similar program by NASA and its contractors, would do a lot of over-analysis, testing of parts and pressure tests behind closed doors.

    So no ugly failures would be seen until much later, just showing a lot of costs overhead and delays (what we see with SLS).

    They will get better at it, though.

    I’m not surprised of their awkward start. Despite of SpaceX knowing their way around rockets, Starship represents a true learning experience for them and anyone.

  34. Couldn’t agree more. That’s the big mental disconnect. People think they are never going to get it. Short of a space station its just simply not true. We have not defeated communicable disease over the course of human history. Such magical thinking to go, nah we will beat this one because my elected idiots say so.

  35. so shut down the whole world so those most at risk dont catch it and then cause even more collateral damage all the while those people who were going to catch it and die catch it because governors in new york and pennsylvania send patients back to nursing homes knowing they were positive to kill many in those homes… sorry but the government never helps only hurts… heres the reality we are all going to catch it ,well in my case me and my whole immediate family caught this virus in early march, (i had a dry cough for a while but thats it), probably caught during mardi gras here in NOLA. Nonetheless, herd immunity should be the goal especially now!

  36. I appreciate your effort at extrapolation but I don’t think it is particularly accurate in this case. For instance, Black people make up 22% of New York City and make up 28% of the fatalities. These numbers do not reflect America as a whole. Not to mention you obviously cannot extrapolate a density of New York City to the rest of the nation. I am not pretending the virus has not killed 84,000 people and counting. I am also not pretending 22 million people are still happily employed. We have increased the M2 money supply 12% in 2 months by out right printing. Covid has consequences but so does the reaction. Best to make sure you balance them because your cure may be worse than the disease.

  37. John, you impress me as a man of strong libertarian views, which I share. But Frankly, I’m unimpressed of your mass protest at places like the Castlewood Colorado coffee shop (while others are protesting at actual capital buildings). I also do believe that states taking governmental action based on recommendations from health authorities is completely legal. Furthermore, such actions are not whimsy. The mere fact that every state in the country has made social restrictions based on health recommendations is not of a whimsical nature. And many of the actions taken (closing of schools, distancing) have been of a similar beneficial nature. I would hardly regard such legal restrictions as something trampling on an individual’s freedoms. But then again – I’m a libertarian and have absolutely no problem with the views you wish to hold. I would hope that more governmental actions would be taken to assist the unemployed, small businesses, and all the states. Its going to take a lot more than my well wishes to help people like ourselves through this pandemic.

  38. People do not lockdown to prevent the spread of flu, therefore the death toll is clearly much worse when you account for how many more deaths there would be without a lockdown.

    The current death toll in New York already stands at 0.14% of the entire state population of 19,450,000 as of 2019 – this is with the lockdown, without it you could expect a much higher percentage than this.

    With just this current death toll in NY extrapolated for the entire US population you get a figure just short of 460,000 less than 4 months since the first case of infection in the US.

    This may not be the black plague, but it is far worse than you pretend – and a damn sight worse than the flu (the yearly death toll for which has already been exceeded by near 50% in less than 1/3 of a year).

  39. Hello Poppycock (Burner Account) Essential worker here (Went into office today) My office is 2 blocks from a meat packing plant with Covid cases. The people who are questioning trampled freedoms are not having corona virus parties but they are gathering in mass at places like the Castlewood Colorado coffee shop, against government whims. They are taking direct action. Looks like the only one clutching pearls or putting on vapors here is you. I hope you and your family are healthy and employed during this trying time. 22 million Americans don’t have a job currently because of government whims. I hope you can remember these people are hurting as well.

  40. SpaceX will probably have Starship heavylift capability before the SLS has its first launch.

  41. Meanwhile Boeing is using 1970’s iteration engines and booster design on the incredibly expensive SLS.

  42. If we open up the economy every couple of months, some of the launches are going to blow up. But after 4 or 5 iterations (maybe after a vaccine, extensive testing and tracking, or suitable, no hydroxychloroquine, treatment), we might have a successful launch! All you freedom lovers, should consider volunteering at health facilities and other essential duties – or how about moving to New Zealand? Clutching your pearls and getting the vapors about your lost freedom isn’t going to cut it.

  43. The funny thing is he doesn’t follow this rule too closely himself. With their development of Starship, they are starting to get the number of iterations down but aren’t making a ton of progress between each iteration. They had to spend the most development time so far just making a pressure vessel that won’t pop. It’s one of the first steps you need to do for sure but many people considered it one of the easier problems to solve in making the program successful. The Mk.I-2 program was also a dead end. Even with these problems Spacex is still progressing faster than everyone else. I attribute that more to Elon Musk’s unwavering vision rather than maximizing a rate of progress function that depends on # of iterations * progress between iterations. There’s many choices SpaceX could have made to maximize that function but they didn’t. Maybe they do have limitations we’re unaware of like funding issues or problems with the raptor engines. But without those issues there have been many times where spacex has chosen not to progress along a maximum rate.

  44. I seem to hear some snowflakes crying about their freedoms being restricted. Step forward and become an ‘essential worker’ in the meat processing industry or at health care facilities. Why not volunteer work at some nursing homes? Or for that matter, why not travel to a foreign country where rules are not so restrictive? And if you and your family are truly unafraid of this weak, flu-like disease, why not have a coronavirus party? Or I guess you can continue to clutch your pearls as you swoon about your trampled on freedoms.

  45. 7-15?

    Well… if you consider SLS is basically Constellation, and that Constellation is basically based on the SpaceShuttle (and it IS an idea/project that started in the 80s)…

    Then it’s more like 30 years for a single iteration.

  46. Sarcasm or not, a few oligarchs seem to love the quarantined world a little bit too much, while paying lip service to freedom and the hope of rapid return to normalcy.

  47. So about two years per iteration with SpaceX, compared to about… 7-15 years with the SLS?

    Wait – SLS hasn’t flown yet despite having spent a LOT more than SpaceX on R&D. Sigh…

    Well, the two design philosophies are definitely showing different results.

    SLS – “It must be PERFECT before it launches. No amount of analysis and rework is too much to make it PERFECT. Besides – we’ve got a Cost-Plus contract. We have enough money and time to make it PERFECT! (Or until we retire, whichever comes first.)”

    SpaceX – “Hey, 7.5 bar and it didn’t go bust! Let’s push the envelope a bit further on the next one, which’ll be ready in… two weeks? Three? Meanwhile, let’s get the engines stuck onto #4 and give it a hop while we’re building #5 and #6…”

    We’ll see where things goes, but I’m expecting SpaceX to have heavylift capability before the SLS is completed.

  48. Sarcasm on – Brian, I don’t know how to tell you this but we aren’t allowed to dream or progress anymore. Turns out there is a new virus that could kill twice the amount of people the common Flu does. Elon Musk leads Spacex. Turns out the tech titan turned entrepreneur Elon Musk is a capitalist with a dangerous love of freedom. Please stop reporting on the astounding progress he has made in orbital rockets. We must all hide at home while waiting for a vaccine that may never materialize. We must also wait for legacy space companies fueled by congressional pork to get us to space. I know they have nothing that can safely fly currently, but that is the price of progress. Billions spent in multiple congressional districts with little to no progress is the price. Here’s to the safety of no freedom and no progress. Waving goodbye as I head back to my cave, John. – Sarcasm off. Seriously, how cool is it that we have even a remote possibility of launching a gigantic stainless steel star ship to orbit. I hope in the next few years to turn to my children after success and say look at what is possible in this world of ours. Or in a decade, look at what is possible on our worlds (plural). Cheers and happy Wednesday.

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