Is it better to make electric propulsion systems simpler and less complicated in order to get them flying quicker?
Is it better to do this even though by their nature electric propulsion can be tailored to be multifunctional?
This is an interesting dilemma. The history of electric propulsion is full of mission specifications that demanded so much of the devices involved..sometimes more than was ever asked of other components of the spacecraft…
But it is not exactly an easy job meeting a lot of these specifications, partly because the customers don’t really know what it is they really want…and in most space projects the suppliers don’t really ask the customers what they really want…
And so you follow the “map” of what the requirement specifications say and think that this is addressing the issue….
What if, instead, the electric propulsion component was made simpler?
What if instead of trying to squeeze every last bit of performance…and project every last worrying risk onto someone else, the electric propulsion could be allowed to be simple?… So that it could:
- Get tested and tested quicker
- Get launched with less risk
- Get flight heritage for specific functionalities
I know that as EP engineers and scientists we all love the ‘Hit The Ball Out Of The Park” concept of having an all-singing, all-dancing propulsion system…
But I also know from experience that the number one issue that delays space missions is:
Yes, that addiction to making things just that little bit better…just a wee bit more…
If you could right now think of what3 things you might think are the most important for an electric propulsion system I am betting that they wouldn’t be what is the exact size of bolts to use to hold the power cables in place.
This is an important issue when its time comes, but making sure the thruster and system ACTUALLY work and will work over the lifetime of the mission is maybe more important.
Added on this is another concept that can be dangerous to adopt, as it relates to over-engineering. It’s the idea of Getting It Right First Time…an admirable concept but not a realistic one..
Go ask Apple if they got it right first time when they made the iPod. I’m sure it looked like that but there was really a lot of prototyping and testing AND marketing and advertising in order for the iPod launch to seem like it was right…
They didn’t get to the mountain top in one go…
This is reason enough to simplify electric propulsion on space missions: if there too many requirements and too many things asked of the system, how can you get time to tweak, re-test and make it better so that by launch time you have really gotten hold of risk?
The answer really lies in what you focused on when negotiating the project in the first place…did you truly ask the customers what they REALLY wanted…the deep down desire for the system? The picture in their head?
If the system is simpler then I believe that it is easier for these ideas and wants to rise to the surface, because there is less project pressure with all the smaller less significant issues…
In fact to put it in simpler terms:
You can dream more…and make those dreams come true easier!