Musk tackles design & weld issues with Starship: quality team now reports to him


EXCERPTS: . . . Elon Musk always wants to go fast. He will not live forever, and the money may eventually run dry. He knows this. One day, the window to spread humanity to Mars may close, but Musk doesn’t know when. So he needs to squeeze through before the window shuts. To really accelerate, his bleary-eyed engineers and technicians responded, they needed enough employees to assign workers to particular stations within the burgeoning factory, allowing each person to specialize. This would require a lot more hands that could build things.

“I said, ‘OK no problem,’” Musk recalls. “I said, ‘You can hire people—just know your reputation is on the line. Don’t bring your brother-in-law who can’t ever get a job. Not that person, OK? You’re going to be responsible for them. Everyone’s got their relatives that they know at the family gathering who, man, I sure as hell wouldn’t want to work with that person. Don’t bring that person. Bring the person who you’d put your reputation on the line for.’”

[...] All told, the company added 252 people to its South Texas Launch Site on that Sunday and Monday. It doubled the workforce, just like that, to more than 500 workers. [...] Soon, the Texas factory will probably be SpaceX’s largest location outside of its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Elon Musk will spend money to go fast, and in South Texas he is proving it. In a matter of weeks, SpaceX has built a small city down here, hard by the Rio Grande River.

[...] You may have seen the video footage of a Starship prototype known as Serial Number 1 (SN1) blowing apart during a pressurization test. ... On Sunday afternoon, I met Musk inside a Stargate conference room ... “Well, I just had a lot of talks with the team about that today,” he said of the SN1 failure. “It’s what you might call the thrust puck—there’s an inverted cone where we mount the three sea-level engines. In fact, it’s drawn on that whiteboard over there.”

He walked up to the whiteboard and pointed to a frowning face. “This is my drawing,” he said with a smirk. Then, with a dry-erase marker in hand, Musk proceeded to lecture about rockets. “There’s a sad face because we have an inverted cone,” he said. “It’s such a dumb design. It’s one of the dumbest things on the whole rocket because it’s heavy, expensive, and unreliable.”

Basically, the SN1 failure boiled down to bad welds in a weak section of Starship near the engine. When exposed to pressure, the welds burst. Musk was not happy because he had not heard about this specific issue, in this section of Starship, before the test failure. Do you think Musk addressed that with his team? Yeah, he addressed that.

“We sent out a note to the team that this was badly designed, badly built, and badly checked,” he said. “That’s just a statement of fact. I met with the whole quality team, and I said, ‘Did you think that that thing was good?’ They said, ‘No.’ I told them that, in the future, you treat that rocket like it’s your baby, and you do not send it to the test site unless you think your baby’s going to be OK.

"They said that they did raise the concern to one of the engineers. But that engineer didn’t do anything. ‘OK,’ I said, ‘then you need to email me directly.’ Now they understand. If you email me directly, and if I buy off on the risk, then it’s OK. What’s not OK is they think that the weld is not good, they don’t tell me, they take it to the pad and blow it up. Now I have been clear. There’s plenty of forgiveness if you pass me the buck. There is no forgiveness if you don’t.”

[...] What you need to understand about Musk is that he is the chief engineer of SpaceX—and that’s not a courtesy title. ... Almost every technical rocket decision made at SpaceX comes to him eventually. ... Yet Musk has not been spending so much of his time in South Texas just to build a Starship. Rather, he’s trying to build a production line for Starships. He wants to build a lot of them. And fast, always fast... (MORE, three pages total)
I'm not an expert on it, but welds can be pretty strong. In fact in some instances it's a failure of the material rather than the weld itself.

From what I would consider in trying to create a perfect weld in that particular scenario, it would likely require a precise robot to be used to seemlessly weld while observe the temperature/gas mix (as well as the level of electricity provided) to make sure their isn't any impurities in the weld itself. There is however then the concern of exothermic bowing which can be caused not just by the temperature but potentially the vary orientation of the material being welded (gravity can factor in). It might therefore make sense to consider some sort of way of welding similar to a "potters wheel" where what is being welded is actually spun.

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