SpaceX Starship MK 3 Illustrate’s the Best and Worst of SpaceX

Mark 3 will embody everything that makes Spacex unique…good and bad.

The rupture of SpaceX's MK 1 Starship rocket prototype is a big setback for the company. While it should not have been unexpected to lose MK 1 at some point, having lost it so early in testing does not inspire confidence. Nonetheless, in true SpaceX fashion, work on a successor design has already begun. There is a reason to believe that this new design, “Mark 3” or “MK 3,” will come together very quickly.

It is worth remembering that the MK 1 prototype was not entirely lost in the rupture. Many of the most expensive and important parts were not on the craft while it was undergoing the pressure testing that sealed (rather…unsealed) its fate. The raptor engines, for example, were not on the craft and are still usable, as are many of the avionics and electronics that were fitted on the inside of the fairing. It is likely, in the interest of money and time, that much of this hardware will find its way onto MK 3. There will be no need to order or build these parts again.

Furthermore, it appears that SpaceX has halted work on the MK 2 prototype that had been under construction in Florida. At least some staff members from the Florida site have been relocated to Texas to expedite work on MK 3. They will certainly bring with them the experience that they gained from working on MK 2. This experience can only help improve the MK 3 design and accelerate progress.

The halting of work on MK 2 also provides SpaceX an opportunity to focus its financial and technical resources on one prototype at a time. Some parts and machinery, originally intended for MK 4, are now being shipped to Texas to further expedite MK 3. Previously, with two prototypes under construction in Texas and Florida simultaneously, resources had to be split across both sites.

It was Elon Musk’s intention was that there would be a kind of competition between the Texas and Florida sites that would, in theory, lead to a faster first flight of Starship hardware. Elon never fully fleshed out how the Texas and Florida crews could have “competed.” After all, the two sites started work on their respective prototypes at different times and were forced to share information with each other….hardly an environment that fosters healthy competition. Perhaps he now realizes that he was mistaken in this approach; it only divided resources into duplicate failed designs.

Nonetheless, what we are witnessing here is the both the strengths and weaknesses of SpaceX simultaneously. As SpaceX pushes the boundaries of technology, they have encountered more frequent failures. At the same time, however, SpaceX is also showing us that they are capable of pivoting on a dime to recover from those very same failures. This is in stark contrast to how the aerospace industry typically works, where caution is the order of the day, and failure leads to inquiries, meetings, investigations, and reports before a correction is made.

The MK 3 prototype will enjoy the benefits of lessons learned from MK 1 and MK 2, under a leadership that is solely focused on its completion, utilizing parts from MK 1 and MK 4. I believe that MK 3 will come together very quickly indeed. The result will be a spacecraft that embodies the very culture of SpaceX: fail early and recovery quickly.

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