Building on innovations achieved in the Vanishing Programmable Resources (VAPR) program, which has developed self-destructing electronic components, the Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS) program is driven by a vision of vanishing air vehicles that can make precise deliveries of critical supplies and then vaporize into thin air.
The millennia-old Icarus story ends badly when the protagonist, soaring with youthful abandon on wings of feather and wax, flies too close to the sun and then falls and drowns in the ocean as his wings disintegrate. The ICARUS program aims to mimic the material transience that led to Icarus’ demise, but field that capacity in scenarios with more uplifting endings.
Supply and re-supply of small military and civilian teams in difficult-to-access territory currently requires the use of large, parachute-based delivery systems that must be packed out after receipt of the payload both for operational security and environmental concerns. If ICARUS is successful, small items, including batteries, communications devices, or medical supplies – especially those requiring maintenance of a cold chain – could be supplied/resupplied using low-cost, disposable aircraft to military or humanitarian assistance teams operating in difficult-to-access areas.
The ICARUS program address these challenges by calling for the design, prototype development and demonstration of autonomous air-delivery vehicles capable of delivering intact a 3-pound payload with 10 meters accuracy with respect to a GPS-programmed location. Within hours of payload delivery, the vehicle, which should be no more than 3 meters in its longest dimension, must physically vanish. The 26-month program will culminate in a final Government field-test of fully vanishing, precision air-delivery prototypes.
The primary technical categories of the ICARUS program are aerodynamics and materials. It will take creative aerodynamic design and materials engineering to minimize overall capability tradeoffs that the interplay of these two interacting arenas is likely to require. For example, engineering materials that are stable enough to meet flight specifications, yet unstable enough to undergo the vanishing requirement, is a tall order.
Within a larger context, the ICARUS program addresses the fundamental question of whether large, functional structures can be deliberately designed to disappear soon after their mission is completed. If this capability can be developed, it could have impacts in many core areas where a leave-behind would have environmental and/or unintended logistical consequences.
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