What things make a rocket successful

Starship: SpaceX sends the largest spaceship of all time to a flight test

SpaceX actually wanted to shoot the Starship at a height of around 12.5 kilometers on Wednesday night. In the end it had to stay on the ground. Just 1.3 seconds before takeoff, a problem with the engine caused Elon Musk's space firm's new rocket testing to be halted. The next attempt followed on Thursday night: But after a successful test flight, a prototype of the Starship rocket exploded on landing. “The pressure in the fuel tank was low during landing which resulted in a high touchdown speed and RUD, but we have all the data we need! Congratulations, SpaceX team, ”wrote Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, despite the explosion on Twitter.

Even before the planned start, Eric Berger explained in an interview what makes this space adventure so special. Berger is a book author and one of the world's most prominent space journalists for the US online magazine Ars Technica. His book “Liftoff” about the founding years of the space company SpaceX will be published in March.

Mr. Berger, in a few days Elon Musk, founder of the space company SpaceX, wants to test the largest spaceship of all time. Why is this flight so important?
Eric Berger: SpaceX will try to fly its Starship 15 kilometers - an epic moment. If the test is successful, a flight into Earth orbit is no longer too far away. Then SpaceX could put 100 to 150 tons of cargo into space - for a hundred million dollars or less.

That would be almost ten times as much charge as the European Ariane 5 rocket - which is, at best, similarly expensive. How important is that?
The Starship will be disruptive. Maybe it won't change the satellite launch market that much. But it will suddenly make a lot of things possible in space, be it building a solar farm on the moon or space-based telescopes. It is difficult today to imagine what could actually happen, but it will definitely be a paradigm shift in space travel.

Testing of a new SpaceX rocket was literally stopped at the last second. The reason was a problem with the engine.

For your book, you spoke to Elon Musk and the entire management team at SpaceX about the company's early years. How did SpaceX manage to fly away from the space agencies so much?
Back then there were many in the space industry who had money and others who had good ideas and visions. Musk had both. About 20 years ago he made a decision that humans should expand into the solar system. And he saw no one doing that. So he decided to do it himself, to make humans a multi-planetary species. This is not nonsense, it really drives him. If you talk to him about it, he's messianic. When making decisions, he is measured against the question: does this bring us closer to Mars or not?

However, the idea alone is not enough if you really want to fly to Mars.
One important thing that Elon is exceptionally good at is hiring people. For the first 3,000 jobs at SpaceX, he personally interviewed each candidate. He's a difficult CEO in a job interview, he doesn't want to hear any nonsense. He wants to know how you think. And he says of himself that he can tell in about fifteen minutes whether someone is a good engineer or not.

And did he hire the good engineers?
It started with three people: Tom Mueller, a rocket engine developer. Chris Thompson, a missile structure expert. And Hans Königsmann, a German avionics specialist. He had the experts for the three main parts of the rocket together, they formed the core of the company.

European space companies and the state space agencies also have good people. What else does SpaceX do differently?
There is a boss at SpaceX: Elon Musk. And it's just very efficient when a single person sits in this meeting room in Hawthorne, California, takes ten seconds to ask a question and says, "Okay, we'll do it this way - now go and do it." If you convince Elon as an engineer that a certain thing is important, you can be sure that he is one hundred percent behind you and gives you the resources so that you can get to work as quickly as possible.

Europe's space travel has a problem: The new Ariane 6 rocket is coming later, will be even more expensive than planned - and even then it cannot keep up with the US competition. What are NASA and SpaceX doing so much better?

How much pressure do employees have to live with?
Elon is unstoppable, he constantly drives his employees forward. He is an extremely demanding boss, he wants things to be done faster than before. And he asks his employees to do things that are almost impossible.

Sounds extremely exhausting.
There is a certain type of engineer who loves it: having the chance to do hard work, do complicated things - and get all the resources and help you need when you have technical problems.

The quality of Musk's schedules is that his team often can't keep to them.
You are absolutely right. Elon is always hyper-aggressive in his schedules. He founded SpaceX in 2002 and initially said he would launch a rocket in late 2003. Then it was March 2006. And even while the countdown was running, he was already thinking a year ahead.

Even though his missile had never lifted off?
The team is sitting there in the control room on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. The rocket is full of fuel on the launch pad and is scheduled to launch in 20 minutes. Chris Thompson, one of the founding employees, is the start manager and gives orders. Elon is in the back of the room, pacing back and forth. And suddenly an extended discussion begins with Thompson about the next missile, the Falcon-5. Thompson reacts: "We're trying to launch a rocket here." But Elon investigates, wants to know why Thompson has not yet bought aluminum for the next rocket. He always thinks about the next steps.

Currently that would be the manned flight to the moon in three years, and soon after that the trip to Mars. The Starship has not yet flown into space and the first drive stage has not even been developed.
One thing that SpaceX has proven is that they are good at building rockets. With the Falcon Heavy, the engineers have shown that they can interconnect a lot of engines. I think the Starship will ultimately be successful. It's a question of when, not if.

Even so, not even NASA is thinking of sending people to Mars in the foreseeable future.
A spaceship that will take people to Mars is a decade or more in the future. But SpaceX could soon test the Starship to refuel spaceships in Earth orbit so that they can fly further out into space. The Starship should soon be on its way as a cargo ship.

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