For comparison, what a "good" i.e. well researched "Would X work?" reactor question might look like:

Example 1 (as originally posted):

The question What is the best Lagrange point for beamed power supply to spacecraft? reads in its entirety:

If a small reactor could be transported or assembled in space or solar cells, which Lagrange point would be the best for the reactor to be to beam energy in some form to a spacecraft to increase the out put of an ion or magnetoplasmadynamic thruster?

My Comment:

-1 and vote to close for unclear. This is another mashup of a nuclear reactor, solar cells, energy beams, spacecraft, magnetoplasmadynamic thruster, Lagrange points and orbital mechanics, all in two sentences including the title.

Example 2:

The question Steam Engine in Space this way? reads in its entirety:

Could 2 tanks be designed to rotate slowly in space creating gravity in the tanks. The tank facing the sun would boil the water to the other condensing tank to cause the water to move a turbine similar to the sand moving past the neck of an hour glass?

Both tanks condense and boil depending on the orientation to the Sun.

Voted to close and my three comments there:

This is question asking for someone to help you invent a steam engine and doesn't really have anything directly to do with Space Exploration. You can propose your design in Engineering SE butI think it's really off-topic here. You have sunlight, shadow, and vacuum, and those can be addressed there without problem.

I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's asking for help to solve an engineering problem about a steam engine. That it happens to be in orbit doesn't really make it on-topic here. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if "Please invent my invention for me" questions as a class are becoming problematic.

One reason I feel that these very short "Could this idea work?" questions are problematic is that they require other people to develop an embodiment of your invention for you, then to do an engineering evaluation of their particular embodiment, then write an answer based on that. It requires other people to basically write your question for you. A better way to ask your question would be for you to do some of the work yourself and write it up, then ask a question referring to your embodiment.

The second one carries the new tag which lets us know it's a certain kind of question but my concern is expressed in the comments under the question.

Question: How do other people feel about this kind of question? I've seen other questions recently, some as short as two sentences including the title, that are also "Please invent my invention" or "Would X work?" questions, so is this the new norm, or is it better to try to get some personal, prior research into almost all of ones questions?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ "The question does not show any research effort" "is unclear" or "is not useful" often apply $\endgroup$
    – user20636
    Mar 26, 2019 at 9:02
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Most of these types of questions seem to come from a specific few users, or newer users... $\endgroup$ Mar 28, 2019 at 17:48
  • $\begingroup$ After being away from home for a while, I now realize the great need to get "ignored tags" supported on the Android SE app. $\endgroup$ Apr 8, 2019 at 22:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I find those questions super annoying. You should only ask something that has real technical meat behind it. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2019 at 0:08

3 Answers 3


I'm against issuing a specific regulation on this sort of questions. JCRM is right - if the question didn't show any research effort or is completely misguided, we already have tools to deal with that. Downvotes, close votes (unclear, off-topic, too broad).

Sometimes though the questions are quite interesting, and yield good answers referencing obscure but interesting research and proposals/alternatives rarely known. I'm guilty of a couple of these and most were received quite well. Even our resident "usual suspect" flooding us with worst offenders of this class of questions sometimes comes up with something interesting (e.g. ) so let's not flush the baby with the bathwater. We're not getting so many of these bad questions as to be overwhelmed and need a specific shortcut to get rid of them.

  • $\begingroup$ Shortcuts like year long suspensions. Thank You so much S.F. for being there for me. $\endgroup$
    – Muze
    Apr 4, 2019 at 6:17

I have often observed that many groups or places of work bear the 'scars' of some of its most trying members. The sign in the office that says "flush the toilet" or "constructive criticism ONLY!", the sign in the gym saying "Don't rest the weights against the mirror". They usually come about because of one person, and persist well after that one person (and the problem) leaves.

These sort of posts are primarily started by one person, and are not a general nuisance. Besides, with the right framing, these questions are perfectly fine. General back-of-the-envelope feasibility calculations can be done, and sometimes it's relatively easy to discount something as physically impossible.

The non-impossible questions are often mired in specific engineering challenges ("The part needs to maintain structural integrity at 800 K while supporting 7000 newtons of force while being less than 500g in weight in order to be better than current solutions") that can only be answered by a dedicated aerospace engineer with experience with precisely the same topic. But occasionally you will see such an engineer come by, and give a fascinating answer.

Physics.meta has a similar thread asking about engineering questions: https://physics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4535/are-engineering-questions-appropriate-for-this-site?noredirect=1&lq=1

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know how well 2013 2016 Physics SE discussion posts apply here. Overall I agree with much of your answer, but the instance of flush the toilet on the second line triggered my reflexive down vote. If you can edit your post and find a euphemism for that, I could undo it. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 30, 2019 at 23:38

Question: How do other people feel about this kind of question?

It's a peculiar kind of arrogance, to try and invent radical devices when one doesn't have a grasp of the fundamentals.

Before designing a flying car, it's good to know something about airplanes and cars.

This is what makes it so annoying to some. Others are better than I at patiently explaining the obvious.


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