Skip to main content

How does a Rocket Engineer Reason?

 They tell me I'm not a Rocket Engineer -  and it's true.  To think like a rocket engineer is to think very differently.  So who is  a  rocket engineer - I bet you came  up with the name Elon.

Here is Elon's  thought process for building  rockets.

  1. Make the  requirements less dumb.   Question the   requirements - the constraints  are wrong.   Especially  if the requirements are given by an  expert.   Also all requirement need to be traceable to a  person - not  a department.
  2. Delete the  part or the  process  - it's redundant or not at all needed.   Remember the  human  bias is to add.  The rocket engineer should be adding back only after first deleting and proving it  must be added back (an  acceptable rate of  re-addition  is 10%).
  3. Simplify or  optimize  only after steps 1 &  2.   Never optimize early.   Do  NOT optimize the thing that shouldn't  exist.  Example SpaceX grid fin folding parts - they just are not needed.
  4. Excelerate cycle time.   But only after 1, 2, 3 and sometimes just to find the new  bottle neck.
  5. Automate the process or part production - as the last step.
The creations process is inside an iteration cycle.  One must iterate toward  acceptable engineering.

One of the  downfalls of the Space Shuttle  program was that it  could not  iterate on the requirements because it had human  life on board - therefore safety was primary  -  not learning.

Yet another problem  - in process  testing  that's  left in the  process  - after end of  process testing  is   passing.

It appears that one of the parts you can  delete is the  grid-fin folding  mechanism -  it's  not  on the  Super-Heavy rocket grid-fins.

See:  Everyday Astronaut's  Starbase Tour with Elon Musk (part 1).  ( 15:00  min)

Item number 1 - Question the  requirements reminds me of some other fliers - the Wright Brothers  and  what  they had to do  to  achieve controlled flight.   They discovered that the prevailing knowledge of the day  on  drag  and  lift were  not   working out  for  their machines.   So in  1901 they  built a  wind tunnel and  balance  scales  and  began testing  wind foils for them selves.

Some  concepts  from  Simon Wardley.