Well, you probably know it, the space shuttle’s era is now over. Like many other space enthusiasts, I wonder what the future will be about: commercial space access, tourism are certainly part of this future, with, more particularly, the prodigious development of SpaceX and its launcher Falcon. But this is not what interests me in space, I like the exploration part, the discovery of new horizons, the possibility to travel even further away from mother planet. Consequently, I like projects like Icarus which thinks about the design of an interstellar probe. With the present knowledge, it sounds unrealistic, at the limit of science fiction, but it is where the dream is, the excitation, the motivation.
This kind of project is what I call Mega Engineering: a project at the limit or even beyond technological or physics knowledge, with highly multidisciplinary interactions, all packed in a complex system, where several countries have to participate with intricate political issues. What is the difference with Big Engineering like the development of skyrockets, space shuttle, space telescopes, particle accelerators? These examples are mainly based on proven technologies and physics, the complexity comes from putting all these technologies together, the difficulty is there the system. Mega Engineering complexity comes both from the system and the technology and the physics. I think that nuclear fusion reactors can be put in this category, interstellar probes as well and even economical earth-to-orbit transportation. All these projects are based on a physics which is difficult to grasp, on a technology which is not mature and on an elaborate architecture.
I would like to have a look at the different stages of the development of a mega-engineering project, the difficulties associated to them, and to explore the potential solutions to overcome these difficulties. Actually, for each problem, I will present two types of solution: one soft (by applying and improving existing methods) and one hard (nearing methods from science fiction).
Please, stay tuned for the first part, how the idea of a mega-engineering project comes to the light.