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Rockets: A Viable Way to Transport Our Products?

By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Military University

In my online courses in logistics, transportation, supply chains and reverse logistics, we often discuss common modes of transportation. All of them are concerned with how products move along, whether in a box, a bag, a crate, a barrel or a shipping container. Also, these items may come from a warehouse, a wholesaler, a retail store or other business.

The answers I get from my students about common modes of transportation are usually the same, since the answer comes from the textbook. However, how the five common modes of transportation – on foot or by road, rail, air and sea — are described by them is slightly different. My students’ age range and backgrounds varies, which influences their forum discussion answers.

The Transportation Field Is Changing, But Not Everywhere

The world of transportation is highly active in accepting new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), data tracking systems, robot-controlled movement of packages and driverless vehicles.

But in the United States, foot is no longer considered a mode of transportation, having been replaced by trucks. Two of my students provided descriptions of the disadvantages of foot transportation:

“The first mode, being foot, would probably be the least likely to be used simply because of the limitations of humans. For starters, people can only carry so much because of their physical limitations. Even with a backpack or some form of carrying device, they would still be limited.

“Another limitation that must be considered is fatigue. Humans are not machines that can just be filled with gas and go. We need rest, food, shelter and clothing from nature which can all impact delivery speed and time.”

But in other countries, human and animal power remains a method of transportation. For example, camels are used to transport goods and women transport water for miles from its source to their home village.

The other student pointed out that truck transportation is still dependent upon humans, saying, “The second form of transportation is road. Whether done by truck, car or van, there are safety considerations that must be considered here are well.

“We have to consider that a human being will be driving these vehicles and must again assume that they will need rest. We also have to take into account weather and other unforeseen incidents, such as traffic jams and weather conditions, that may prohibit movement.”

Pipelines Are Another Way to Move Products

The five main modes of transportation are by foot, truck/road, rail, air and sea, but there is an often illusive one — pipelines. My students often fail to take into account this other way to move products. Pipelines can transport water, natural gas, gasoline, raw oil, processed oil derivatives, many different manufacturing chemicals, and sewage.

Could Rockets Become a Sixth Mode of Transportation?

In the future, rockets could become a sixth mode of transportation. As the California company Space X demonstrated, rockets can take payloads into space and return to Earth for reuse.

What is different about rockets as a mode of transportation? Rockets can carry goods just like other forms of transportation, but they might also accomplish so much more.

For instance, rockets travel into outer space. At present, no other forms of transport can go there.

Rockets Could Be Helpful for Urgent Deliveries

Each mode of transportation varies by its speed of delivery. For items needing urgent delivery, a rocket could be a useful choice, as shown in the chart below:

Transportation Mode Motor Rail Air* Water** Pipeline*** Rocket
Speed Moderate (70 mph) Moderate (60 mph) Fast    (345 mph) Slow     (17 mph) Very Slow        (5 mph) Very Fast (18,000 mph)

*Knots indicates air speed (KIAS) with mph = 1.15 kias; so 300 kias = 345 mph

**Knots indicates speed on water with mph = 1.15 knots; so, 15 knots = 17.3 mph

***Pipeline is measured in feet per second, such as 3 to 15 fps.

 Modes of Transportation Inevitably Change

Time and technology are constantly changing. Eventually, reusable rockets will give new meaning to the transportation field.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Military University (AMU). He is the former program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. Dr. Hedgepeth was a tenured associate professor of Logistics and chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He has published two books, RFID Metrics and How Grandma Braided the Rain.

Wes O'Donnell

Wes O’Donnell is an Army and Air Force veteran and writer covering military and tech topics. As a sought-after professional speaker, Wes has presented at U.S. Air Force Academy, Fortune 500 companies, and TEDx, covering trending topics from data visualization to leadership and veterans’ advocacy. As a filmmaker, he directed the award-winning short film, “Memorial Day.”

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