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Is there any classic aviation/space engineering moment where the engineers had been working on a concept for months and then realised that their approach to the problem wasn't quite right and so had to discard all their hard work and re-start from scratch?

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    $\begingroup$ I have worked on multiple things that were shut down, more than I can count on one hand. I like up-front work. Being asked to debug a blank sheet of paper is about as good as it gets. The downside of that kind of work is that there is a high probability of failing, and an even higher probability of the project being canceled through no fault of the people working on the project. What SpaceX has done in this regard has upped the ante by orders of magnitude. SpaceX apparently has no problem with tossing dozens and dozens and dozens of staff years of work. $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ RNG In a crisis where the best approach isn't known and budget is of lesser importance, sometimes parallel lines of development are started, with the "losers" being abandoned once the "best" approach is chosen. There were a couple of examples of that during the recovery after the STS-107 failure: How to repair tile damage on-orbit, and how to inspect the heat shield on-orbit. The classic example of this is isotope separation during the Manhattan Project, where all the parallel approaches tried, worked. $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ Also wet vs dry launch with Polaris...that's the first thing that popped into my head. $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble It's not always a crisis situation. A statement some attribute to Einstein says it best: “If we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t call it research.” $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen right, I was just trying to point out that sometimes it happens in parallel rather than serial. $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 20:42
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In 2018 SpaceX determined that carbon fibre composite material was not going to be suitable for their new BFR rocket due to difficulties with material resilience in different temperature environments and cost.

They switched to a Stainless steel design instead and abandoned 2 years of work and tens of thousands of manhours. This had involved building and testing a huge carbon fibre pressure vessel and some large carbon fibre test segments. The giant carbon fibre winding tool which had been brought in specially for BFR was also scrapped.

https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/04/spacex-appears-ready-to-spin-carbon-fiber-for-the-bfr-spaceship/

https://www.teslarati.com/spacex-all-in-steel-starship-super-heavy/

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The Gemini inflatable wing concept took around 4 years and 165 million dollars, and was discarded right at the end, just as they were ironing out the very last issues. The parachute system was used instead, and the wing never flew.

The manned manouvering unit was only flown three times before being replaced by the robotic arm due to safety concerns.

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    $\begingroup$ Good answer - in reach of these cases, three we're competing approaches to problems, and not necessarily mistakes - to teach a goal quickly, sometimes you pursue ahh the ways to the destination at the same time to see which one works best. $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Does the 2nd paragraph refer to the shuttle MMU? $\endgroup$ Jun 12 at 19:33

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