Refuelability

Arthur C. Clarke wrote about orbital refueling over 50 years ago.1 This very sensible vision of space operations depends, of course, on rocketships retaining their fuel tanks upon reaching orbit. Yet the Space Shuttle throws away its external propellant tank on every launch. Every commercial space launcher does this. They throw away their gas tanks and engines in a process called "staging" to make it easier to get into space. As long as launch vehicles continue to do this, they will never be able to realize the benefits of orbital refueling. Long-term operational efficiency does not exist in ballistically launched rockets, because it has never been needed. Efficiency is routinely sacrificed for the short-sighted goal of a single launch.

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