Ikaros: the path to follow

I react to this article from space.com on Ikaros.

“Researchers from around the world are celebrating what they’re calling a new dawn for spaceflight following the success of a Japanese craft propelled by a solar sail.”

Ikaros is the example of what research and development in astronautics should be. What did the JAXA engineers developed? A giant multi-thousand kilograms probe targeting a tour of the inner solar system? A state-of-the art spaceship combining all possible trendy technologies with multi-purpose capabilities bother for engineering and scientific purposes? No. what they developed is a simple demonstrator with just the technology they want to test. In other words, they focus on the real engineering problems, a very pragmatic approach far from most of the strategies used by the architecture astronauts from the industry or some national or international space agencies. And they did not launch either a gigantic international PR campaign to promote this experiment. Most of the first news were available to us thanks to japanophiles who translated the mission status updates. They had specific technical targets, they focused on it, providing the community with the relevant data and no more. And such a project is sufficient to rise the interest of the whole community because there are technical concrete results, no more Powerpoint hypothetical orders of magnitudes.

And this is a lesson, that is not new, but that we have to keep in mind: it is important to develop ambitious projects, to create new mission analysis, to plan every part of a project but,  if you have no experimental data to second them, they are useless. In a time where abstract disciplines like system engineering, mission analysis are the most attractive to engineers, mastering the  technology remains the key to success.

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