Q&A with Mike Tanzini, Apex Structures Engineer

Published on
June 27, 2023
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Mike is a Structures Engineer at Apex. Prior to Apex, Mike worked at Virgin Orbit and SpaceX. Mike's deep experience across aerospace hardware is a welcome addition to the growing Apex team!

Q: Why do you care about aerospace? What drew you in?

I think it’s because the main goal is to explore places we could not go without technology, and because of the problem solving needed to get things to work.

Q: What’s the hardest problem you’ve ever had to solve?

The hardest problem I’ve had to solve in my career was being involved with the failure investigation for the Virgin Orbit (first flight) launch failure.  Launch failures are tough and can be disappointing for the entire company, but it’s amazing how everyone comes together to solve one problem.  I was brought into the investigation to make a nonlinear finite element model of the gimbaling engine.  At this point in my career I had worked on every major structural system of rockets except for the engine.  Therefore, I had to quickly learn the basics, and work in a multidisciplinary team of people in propulsion, structures, dynamics, and manufacturing.  I was able to uncover multiple areas on propellant feed lines that needed reinforcement, but not without a lot of collaboration, analysis, testing, etc.

Q: What are you most proud of from your career?

I am most proud of the work I put into the SpaceX payload fairing.  I designed the vertical seam stiffeners, was responsible for qualifying the entire payload fairing structure, owned the payload fairing system-level finite element model, and eventually redesigned the main laminate to save mass and accommodate various components needed for reusability.  It was a lot of hard work but it all paid off watching the first Falcon 9 launch with a payload fairing survive ascent and deploy without any issues.

Q: You’ve spent your career at SpaceX and Virgin Orbit– both rocket companies. Tell us about your transition to spacecraft at Apex.

I have spent the past 15 years working on rockets so I’m looking forward to a new challenge!  I anticipate there being a lot of similar concepts in design and analysis but a bunch of new things to learn as well.  I am also excited about joining a very small team.  I like the idea of being involved in all of the design decisions early on, instead of just dealing with a design that someone made 5 years ago.  I joined SpaceX then Virgin when they were a few hundred people but never anything close to this.

Q: If you weren’t a structures engineer, what would you be?

If I wasn’t a structures engineer, I would probably want to be a computer programmer.  I have put a big effort into automating the tedious parts of structures analysis and margin writing with scripting.  It helps me avoid mistakes and makes the analysis robust to changing loads, because it can be re-run and post-processed with very little effort.  I see a lot of value in automating tasks and doing it with a quick, efficient algorithm.

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