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Modularity and Mobility: The Future of Launch Infrastructure

By Jacob Ellis, PE

October 6, 2020

Modularity and mobility for the future of commercial aerospace launch infrastructure.

Complexity is inherent when you’re designing and building launch vehicles and the associated infrastructure and support equipment.

The scale of the various elements necessary to make everything work can vary in size from minute to massive, as can the facilities and devices needed to accommodate them.

However, regardless of the level of complexity associated with a project, particularly one in the aerospace and defense industry, oftentimes taking a step back and breaking down the dynamics that come with it can yield answers.

And that’s where RS&H’s aerospace team excels.

The premise, of course, is simple -- by strategically planning ahead, we are able to help clients understand the logistical challenges associated with a particular project and then break these challenges down one by one to find feasible solutions.

Removing that complexity and enabling various elements of the broader project to be built by itself will streamline installation at the end and allow for adjustment techniques as needed. Because when you’re constructing something as daunting as a launch vehicle that has to travel to space and the required infrastructure, it’s good to have a partner that appreciates the importance of streamlining that broader process as much as possible to identify efficiencies and improve outcomes.


Making Mobility Work

A key element of simplifying a complex project comes through the incorporation of modularity into the broader design process. For instance, the construction of a launch tower or other critical piece of ground support equipment can be achieved by building modular pieces off-site that can be assembled in a shop ahead of time and then brought to the project site for final erection and installation.

This approach also can work if the client needs several pieces of ground support equipment for a project transported to various facilities, enabling RS&H to help not only design the pieces themselves, but also craft a comprehensive strategy to ensure those pieces can be assembled or installed in an efficient manner.

Understanding the logistical nuances of a project – particularly a launch vehicle – is critical for success. That’s because there’s more at work than simply preparing a launch vehicle on a pad for a vertical launch or horizontally and firing it off.

The scale and scope of these projects necessitate embracing a modular approach to design and assembly, which means that our combined team must evaluate every facet from how big or small a piece must be to how the client can get those pieces to a launch or test site.

Consider the idea of a mobile launch site. Many elements necessary for launch are massive in scale, meaning they cannot easily be placed on a truck and shipped to its final destination. Instead, the various pieces must be scoped, designed, and fabricated to ensure they can be easily and efficiently assembled on location.

And that’s before you factor in the transportation challenges associated with getting these pieces to the site for assembly, which includes considerations like the needed water to ensure proper cooling for a launch stand or flame trench. Even the smallest of orbital rockets need thousands of gallons to prevent any steel melting on the launch pad.


Building Dialogue with the Client

Being able to look at all the variables of a project like this and then break them down into tasks that are more easily addressed is essential to ensuring success for the client.

We must think through how we can minimize these challenges and costs because that kind of investment for the client can get pretty substantial. As such, it’s important to provide that level of honest feedback to the client during the planning process. This can set the team up to identify different solutions to a potential problem, yielding greater efficiencies and savings.

It’s definitely looking at that cradle-to-grave process to see what that end result is going to be for the client. You can meet a requirement for them, but it could cost them 10 times more down the road to meet it.

Or you can put that extra thought into it in the beginning and deliver a lot of costs or schedule savings for the client. That’s just what we try to do.

Access more insights, meet the team and learn more about our experience on our new commercial aerospace page.


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Topics: Insights, Aerospace & Defense, Aerospace

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About the Author

Jacob Ellis is a professional engineer with RS&H’s aerospace team in Merritt Island, Florida, compiling nearly a decade of experience leading complex mechanical engineering projects across the U.S. He can be reached at jacob.ellis@rsandh.com.

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