Thursday, March 29, 2007

Magnetic Launch System

With a recent $500,000 Phase II contract awarded from the U.S. Department of Defense Small Business Technology Transfer Program, LaunchPoint engineers are now hard at work on an innovative magnetic space launch system. Continue Reading...
Circular Magnetic Launch System Design. Courtesy
Maglev technology, most known for propelling trains across Europe and Japan at great speeds, is being put to use for another purpose--launching satellites into orbit. Though this contract is only for launching satellites into orbit it is not too difficult to imagine the technology being used for eventually launching spaceships, cargo, and many other things into space. The idea of a magnetic launch system isn't that new but Launchpoint's design has brought a new twist into the concept--literally. There have been previous tests and studies done but most have been attempted with straight tracks. Launchpoint has gone for a circular track (as seen in picture). The circular design prevents the track from requiring quick bursts of acceleration to reach necessary speeds in time by elongating the track. The shape allows for a much longer acceleration period and thus a giant spike of energy is no longer needed to get a ship moving. More exciting though, is that the whole setup is not only technologically feasible but it is also cost effective.

So, what are the advantages? Well, the cost effectiveness is clearly one of the biggest ones. The price tag for sending things into orbit is currently about $4,000/lb. To put the cost effectiveness into perspective, a first generation design of this specific magnetic launch system would bring the cost down to roughly $750/lb! As advances are made and efficiency continues increasing this particular design could possibly drop the price down to an extremely affordable $100/lb or less! The possibilities really are quite amazing.
Unfortunately though, this particular design is not equipped for fragile instruments and definitely not humans. The design calls for a top speed of 10km/sec and when the satellite finally separates from the track and launches into the air it is hurtling at a startling 23 times the speed of sound! At Mach 23 the centripetal force on the satellite reaches a staggering 2000 times Earths pull of gravity. So, quite clearly, at 2000 G's this system is NOT viable for humans or
fragile equipment. Other equipment could easily be sent up though. Military grade electronics on laser-guided weapons can withstand 20,000 G's. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you see it, the magnetic launch rail could also be used to launch artillery across the globe or even into space.

Computer Model of a Maglev Spaceship. Courtesy
A magnetic launch system could be modified for human use too. Slowing the velocity down to 1000 km/hr and using a straight track is enough to dramatically increase cost and fuel efficiency. After being launched into the air by the maglev system a ship would then act like any other conventional rocket and ignite its engines until it reaches orbit. This extra boost lowers liftoff weight of a typical rocket by %20. Price now starts to drop considerably, especially when factoring in the laughable $75 cost of electricity for each launch.

Though the maglev technology has been around for about 100 years the progress is still in its very elementary stages. There is quite a bit of room for improvement. Hopefully, this means there will be continued improvement on the technology because a magnetic launch system has lots of potential. Writing this article has actually given me a few ideas and I hope it has done the same for you (and please share those ideas!).

Here are a few ideas of mine that hopefully can get the ball rolling for the rest of you:
  • Using a natural valley to make a sort of 'U' shaped maglev track.
  • Having the magnets 'follow' the ship as it travels the track to increase energy efficiency.
  • Digging underground rather than building it up in the air.
  • Catapult it and use the maglev system at the same time (or a 'sling' motion).
  • Have the system go up a mountain or as high as practically possible to decrease air resistance.
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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Manifest Destiny: Mark II

So... I feel kind of bad leaving the site not updated for a few weeks so I decided to share an essay of mine that I wrote awhile back. Hopefully it provokes a little thought. Anyways, here it is:

The Manifest Destiny: Mark II

The original Manifest Destiny was used for the reasoning of expansion into new and unfound territories. One must surely be confused as to what a second version of the Manifest Destiny could mean. After all, what new and unfound territory is left in the world? If it cannot be the expansion of territory then perhaps it is spreading the idea of global unity? In fact, that is exactly what the Manifest Destiny: Mark II is! Well… that is exactly what half of it is. The other half actually is the expansion of territory. How can this be when it has already been established that there is an insignificant amount of undiscovered territory, if any, left in the world? The key phrase here is “in the world.” Mankind’s next logical step or, perhaps more appropriately, mankind’s next destined step is exploring and colonizing space.

Looking back on the history of human grouping one can clearly see how mankind has come together over time. Initially it was only the formation of “clans” in small area that joined together to ensure survival. As technology advanced and ideas spread these “clans” started converging into tribes or city-states. Tribes and city-states eventually organized themselves as civilized nations. That brings mankind to its current state where nations are becoming incredibly connected due to globalization. Borders are starting to blur as nations are forming strong unions. The UN and the European Union are just a couple of many examples hinting towards global unity.

There is one last hurdle to overcome before the next level can be achieved, albeit a massive hurdle. The next step before humans can finally be under one, unified group is to gain a new perspective. Our perspective is currently limited to the surface of the Earth and it is for this reason that people cannot have a vision of a unified Earth. Without the capacity to see global unity there is no hope for attaining global unity. That is why it is written in mankind’s Manifest Destiny to move on to the next frontier and break down these barriers.

The Earth is eventually going to run out of available resources and space will only increase in scarcity. It is not only to our advantage to colonize space; it is of absolute necessity! It is possible that a single virus could infect the entire human race and wipe us out if we remain contained on the Earth. Likewise, a cataclysmic event could drastically change the environment and leave our precious planet unlivable. These are only a sample of the short-term doomsday possibilities. Extend the time stuck on Earth and our doomsday starts to become inevitable. With all of these possible outcomes looming over our heads there leaves no better time to start planning than now. Our society has the resources, technology, and manpower to make space colonization a reality. The only thing lacking is the push for expansion and continuing our Manifest Destiny. Unfortunately, if we never receive that needed push we will never be able to realize the full potential of the human race. This is why we need everyone who cares to push for our “Manifest Destiny.”
What do you guys think? I hope you enjoyed it.

p.s. I have been making progress on some articles. Rest assured, I will have a nice buffer soon!

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