Russian vs Werner von Braun Approach to Rocket Development

It took 4 launches for Falcon 1 to succeed, and I completely lost count of the number of times it took to get Falcon 9 landing working. You don’t see visually any SLS failures or anything blowing up. But they are years behind schedule. Quite a number of Raptor engines blew up, yet they pulled off making one of the most impressive and complicated engines in all of rocket history.

Maybe you are right that they are screwing up more than what is normal for SpaceX, but they still seem many years ahead of anything the competition is doing. Blowing up stuff is just the way SpaceX build things. This is a bit like the old Russian approach to the Space race. They rapidly iterated and and blew up lots of rockets. The US in contrast followed a miticulous approach favored by Werner von Braun where everything was checked and verified in detail separately. It meant less visible failures but it also meant the US kept losing the space race to the Russians. When Saturn V was being developed this approach got kicked to the curb because people started having doubts about the meticulous Werner von Braun approach. They got terrified that the Russians would beat them to the moon as well. They understood they had to move faster.

Until more time has passed I will simply assume that very visible explosions is kind of the price of the rapid iteration approach SpaceX uses.

But it is perhaps pertinent to ask whether this approach always works. When the Russians made their N-1 Moon rocket this approach seemed to hit a brick wall. This rocket was so huge, time consuming and expensive to build that rapid iteration on massive rockets blowing up all the time, became very impractical.

Blue Origin seems to follow more the Werner von Braun approach. It will be interesting to see how this pans out in the future. Who will be proven right about the way to go about this.

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Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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