April 2016 – After four failures, SpaceX, a commercial venture recently succeeded in sending a payload rocket to the space satellite, and then landing the booster rocket on a platform in the ocean, ready to be used again for another payload. People are oohing and aaahing over this accomplishment and claiming it will dramatically reduce the cost of sending rockets into outer space.
For years, naysayers said that it couldn’t be done. Reusing booster rockets was too difficult. These negative doubters, who are always around when you talk about reuse rather than discard, said that NASA’s method of destroying booster rockets after each liftoff by dropping them into the ocean, was the only way to handle booster rockets. Once again, the doubters are proved wrong but don’t expect them to learn anything from this experiment.
One of the great features of this achievements is the very difficulty of the engineering and logistics. It was not achieved by tyros and do gooders. It required technical expertise of the highest caliber. This is the normal way that difficult reuse designs are arrived at. I once had a spirited argument with an engineer who absolutely swore that there was no way that components in electronic gadgets could ever be reused. It was just too difficult for him to imagine any way it could be done. It’s too difficult for me too, because I’m not an electronics engineer and I don’t design microchips or the circuit boards for smartphones. But I have learned that all designing leaves gobs of parameters either ignored for convenience or chosen for profit or quick assembly. There are always new design parameters in any complex architecture that can be made use of to increase the reusability of products. And it is not only the parameters of the object that are available. There are many parameters of the world outside, including human traits and assumptions which affect the ways in which objects can be reused. In the space rocket case, the platform in the ocean required careful design for receiving the booster. Not all of the improvements were in the booster itself.
This success at design for reuse, rather than discard, now stands as a towering example of what can be accomplished when the right people, with the right tools, set their minds to it.
For more information on SpaceX, go to: SPACEX WEBSITE.