Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We don't need no stink'n rockets... Mountain maglev it into space!

DVICE - StarTram maglev would launch cargo up a mountain and into space

"Rockets are a lousy way of getting stuff into space, because most of what they lift is their own fuel. We're still using rockets because we don't have a space elevator yet, but an innovative interim solution could be a maglev vacuum tube that launches cargo up the side of a mountain and straight into low Earth orbit for dirt cheap.

NASA has been looking at railgun and maglev launching systems for a while now, but the solution that a company called StarTram is offering doesn't need any rockets or turbojets or scramjets or anything like that. Instead, StarTram proposes to construct an 80 mile long tunnel, the end of which follows the curve of a mountain up to the peak. The inside of the tunnel would be held at a vacuum, and magnetically levitated cargo spacecraft would be fired down the tunnel at about 20,000 mph. They'd exit at the top of the mountain through a plasma window and continue up into space with 35 tons of payload on board, requiring only one tiny little correction with on-board rockets to circularize their orbit.

It would certainly cost a whole bunch of money to set up a system like this: estimates put it as something on the order of $20 billion over ten years, and that's if we really push to make it happen. But once it's up and running and launching 35 tons of cargo ten times per day, the cost of getting something into low Earth orbit would be just $20 per pound, which is hundreds (or thousands) of times cheaper than it costs now.



Rocket's byte. There's no way I'm every going to be able to afford getting into space on a rocket. I've been keeping my fingers crossed for a space elevator, but I've also wondered why we haven't done something like this? I mean we've got maglev pretty much figured out, right (Heck if we can use it on roller coasters, trains, etc...). We know how to build big, and we know we need to get into space cheaper, faster, easier.

We've got 80 miles of land and mountain somewhere don't we? Let's build this and get off this rock... :P

(Yeah, yeah, I know the G's for this would preclude humans on it, but still if we can get materials into space at $20 a pound, then everything changes...)

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