You’ll forgive this open ended question, because I heard of some engineering today that will make your heart weep.
Today I was thoroughly blown away by a proposed inflatable solar panel-powered vehicle designed to go to Neptune. Shortyoh says that he worked on this project and witnessed on particular engineering solution which blows my feeble little brain that never made it past high school physics class. Ion thrusters are involved.
You want to know the real batshit crazy part? Our proposal didn't have any radioisotopes - pure solar power with Xenon gas as the "propellant" for the ion thruster.
Without radioisotopes, our inflatable mirror was bigger. MUCH bigger. And here's where it gets really crazy - one part I didn't mention - to keep that inflated for years, we had to harden it. The proposed solution at the time? Make the inflatable structure out of a composite material, only without the resin. Inject the resin into the structure with the air you use to inflate it, and it will naturally permeate into the composite. But you still have to bake it. The proposal for that was that you set the trajectory the wrong freakin' way from Neptune, and actually go in to Venus first. You use Venus for a gravity assist (which meant that the whole transit time was actually faster than trying to go straight out to Neptune), and as you get near to Venus, you inflate the structure and use the more intense heat from the sun plus the radiation coming off the surface of Venus as your autoclave (without Venus’ radiation, you risk uneven curing).
That, to me, really made the whole thing batshit crazy. I just wish I had been the one to think up that lunatic plan.
So with my mind thoroughly warped, now I’m wondering what’s the craziest engineering solution you’ve seen? If it’s a project you’ve worked on, or just something you saw on AtomicToasters, let it all out.
Photo Credit: NASA via The Unwanted Blog (Mobile Orbiting Lab pictured, not Neptune Orbiter)