(New Scientist Space) IT SOUNDS more like a roller coaster than a spacecraft launcher: a levitating sled that whirls around a giant magnetic ring at ever increasing speeds before shooting up into the sky. [...]
LaunchPoint, which is being funded by the US air force, claims a circular accelerator could allow the magnetically levitating sled to progressively build up speed over a period of hours. It would then be launched up a ramp at 10 kilometres per second, firing it into orbit.
Before anyone writes this off as "another silly space idea," they should remember the same thing was probably said of launching satellites into orbit before Sputnik, landing on the moon and (in the future) the Space Elevator. This new method has the potential to seriously reduce the cost of launching satellites (and hopefully space shuttles) into orbit.
(via LaunchPoint's Site) How revolutionary would a Maglev space launch system be? Consider that the first magnetic launch systems are expected to propel payloads into orbit at a cost of roughly $750 / lb, already a significant improvement over the current rocket-launched cost of around $4,000 / lb. Now realize that the total cost to orbit might eventually drop below $100 / lb, and it soon becomes clear how vitally important this technology is to the future of space.
LaunchPoint has already been awarded a $100,000 from the US Department of Defense Small Business Technology Transfer Program, and so far this new piece of technology looks promising. Unfortunately the site does not have a weblog in order for space junkies to keep up with what is happening at the company, but for now email subscriptions will suffice.
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