Railroad To Space: A Low(er) Cost Leap Into The Stars
Do you know how much it costs to go to space?
It varies, of course, depending on what’s being sent and where, and what type of infrastructure exists that’s capable of getting whatever you’re sending to wherever you want it to go.
But just to give you an idea, it currently costs about $100,000 to send a standard 3-pound satellite into low Earth orbit. Larger masses can be a little bit more affordable, but can still cost up to $5,000 per pound.
But who cares, right?
That’s a great question. And the answer is everyone. Well, that should be the answer, and I’ll give you two reasons why…
First of all, traveling the cosmos is relatively cheap compared with the cost of actually getting off the planet. That costs a whole lot of dough, and all that money has to come from somewhere.
While it’s true that there are many privately owned space companies out there, there are still plenty of government programs sending people (and things) into space.
In a nutshell, that means when the NSA launches a satellite they plan on using to spy on us, they turn around and hand us a bill.
So reducing the cost of throwing chunks of metal into orbit could mean that more of your tax dollars go toward something you actually care about (but I wouldn’t get my hopes up).
Secondly, space exploration is vital. It’s the future of humanity. And as our presence and activity outside our own atmosphere increases, there will be a massive demand for supplies that we aren’t yet able to produce anywhere else.
Food. Water. Fuel. Building materials. Manufactured goods.
These kinds of supplies will be essential during the infancy of our forays into the stars.
And they’re all heavy.
Lucky for the human race, there are smart people out there trying to solve this problem.
One company, HyperV Technologies Corp., has proposed a “railroad to space using a mechanical hypervelocity launcher to enable large-scale space utilization” that will be only one-hundredth of the cost of the rockets we currently use.
Fancy, I know.
They’re calling it the Slingatron.
The Slingatron is designed to work by “slinging” bulk payloads into orbit using a unique mechanical acceleration approach that can launch payloads at up to 7 kilometers per second, matching the velocity of vehicles that are currently in low Earth orbit (LEO).
If it works on the scale they’re planning, the end result will be a 100% electrically powered, land-based Earth-to-orbit launcher capable of hurling virtually any g-force-resistant payload into orbit.
The math to how it works is somewhat technical, but it basically uses a gyrating spiral rail (hence the train analogy) to harness centripetal force.
By placing the payload at the center and releasing it once the rail has reached launch speed, the payload continues to accelerate as it travels outward on the spiral arm until it’s launched, hopefully into space.
The technology is very promising, and even though they haven’t sent anything into space yet, the company has already successfully built and tested two prototypes, each a scale up from the last.
The Mark I Slingatron was the first demonstration of a spiral launch track, but still using a rolling sphere. They were able to launch a 1-ounce, ¾-inch-diameter steel ball bearing at 152 meters per second.
The Mark II Slingatron was the first attempt at a semi-modular design for launching a heavy sliding payload. With this design, they were able to launch a sliding, half-pound payload at 100 meters per second.
These are impressive results, if you ask me…
Right now the company is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for their third prototype, which will be used to launch a quarter-pound payload to 1 kilometer per second. This latest model will be the largest yet, and I’m sure they’re hoping its success will lead to larger-scale funding for research and development.
I, for one, am excited, not just about this idea, but about the face of the future in general. With all these people coming up with so many unique ideas and working so diligently, it seems inevitable that we’ll see a real expansion into space in our lifetime.
For more information on the Slingatron project, check out their Kickstarter page, below.
Here’s to the future,
for Tomorrow in Review