Ok, I’ll admit it: I’ve been an unabashed fan of SpaceX for a while now.
To be honest, what’s not to like? They’re a small company looking to take on the establishment. The fact that their Goliath slaying tools of the trade are heavy lift rockets and manned space crafts capable of docking with the international space station is just the icing on the cake.
Up until now, my faith has been well placed, but SpaceX’s latest rocket design seems like a really bad idea. Just see for yourself. . .
SpaceX Unveils New Design:
So yeah… SpaceX wants to make their rocket fully reusable?
That’s not a good plan.
Discarding the first and second stages is clean, efficient, and makes good engineering sense. Every kilogram you add in reentry and landing equipment takes away eight kilograms from your weight that you can put into orbit.
Anyone have any clue how much weight fuel, heat shields, and shock absorbing landing struts? Me neither, but my guess is that it’s an awful lot. On top of that you have additional complexity by designing systems that are meant for several uses.
To make matters worse, you now have to factor in the time and cost to inspect, refurbish, trouble shoot any anomalies, and recheck the rebuilt systems. All of these things take time and money. SpaceX has been making promises about their ability to launch quickly and cheaply, but in their attempt to appeal to the reusability crowd, they may break that promise.
Reusability didn’t save cost on the space shuttle program, in fact many cost estimates place reusability as one of the largest costs of the program. I’ve put a lot of trust in these people and their abilities, but they are in serious danger of violating that trust.