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Mar 1, 2007

Superconducting Maglev Launch Technology

Posted by in category: space

From Physorg.com:

With a typical launch cost for a spaceship around $20 million, it’s difficult to practically conceive of a space industry beyond federally funded agencies. Nevertheless, many people believe that expanding space travel—whether for research purposes, entertainment, or even colonization—is not impractical. Bridging the economic hurdle may be technologies such as the maglev launch assist. According to an analysis, the cost of launching payloads into the low earth orbit with maglev may be achieved with only hundreds of dollars per pound (John Olds and Peter Bellini).

Most recently, researchers in a group including Wenjiang Yang and his colleagues from the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Chinese Academy of Sciences have investigated the possibility of the “Maglifter,” a maglev launch assist vehicle originally proposed in the 1980s. In this system, a spaceship would be magnetically levitated over a track and accelerated up an incline, lifting off when it reaches a velocity of 1,000 km/hr (620 miles/hr). The main cost-saving areas would come from reduced fuel consumption and the reduced mass of the spaceship.

“Magnetic levitation is a promising technology for future space transportation,” Yang told PhysOrg.com. “The most expensive part of space missions to low-Earth orbit is the first few seconds—getting off the ground.”

Obviously, cost-to-orbit is highly relevant to Lifeboat’s push to build a space ark. Some might find it hard to imagine how a non-governmental organization has even a chance of building a space station in the foreseeable future, but that’s because cost-to-orbit has historically been over $10,000 per pound. With new launch technologies like maglev-assist, the cost could come down to hundreds per pound or below. Dropping costs in launch technologies are something that we can expect to accelerate once it really gets started — especially with the growing interest in private space travel.

Take a look at the Lifeboat Foundation EM Launch Competition!

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Comments — comments are now closed.

  • Tom McCabe on March 1, 2007 5:11 pm

    “with only hundreds of dollars per pound”

    ONLY hundreds of dollars per pound?! That’s as much as solid silver metal costs! Clearly, we can’t build an effective space ark on our current budget if everything is as expensive as solid silver.

  • randpost on March 2, 2007 9:04 am

    Non-governmental organization has already put a space station to orbit, checkout Bigelow Aerospace.

    I don’t think EM launch will be feasible in a decade, but dollars / kilogram to orbit will start to decline after 2010 as many private space companies will start to compete. SpaceX seems most promising with their Falcon rockets.

  • Darnell Clayton on March 2, 2007 3:26 pm

    Thanks for the tip about this technology!

    Despite being China powered (as the US and China are not as close as they use to be thanks to the ASAT) this could drastically help lower the cost of space!

    This is even better than the Magnetic sled proposed by Launch Point (which could only send up cargo and unfortunately double as a missile launcher).

    Note: You guys have never mentioned space elevators as an alternative for space transportation. Has your foundation investigated this avenue?

    PS

    Although unlikely in the near future, hopefully one could be developed so that it would lift the entire craft into space, helping to reduce CO2 emissions.

  • randpost on March 2, 2007 4:47 pm

    Space elevators are still decades away.. I’m quite confident that one will never be built, as other transportation techniques will be cheaper.

  • Michael Anissimov on March 5, 2007 10:36 pm

    Note: You guys have never mentioned space elevators as an alternative for space transportation. Has your foundation investigated this avenue?

    I don’t know… our full-time staff only includes two people due to current funding levels (me and Eric), and I haven’t talked with him about space elevators just yet, though presumably we both agree with the general timeline set forth by Liftport.

    Space elevators are still decades away

    Two decades, if the demand remains there, and the idea is viable in general. Carbon nanotubes are already being manufactured in kilogram quantities. See here for the current costs.

    I’m quite confident that one will never be built, as other transportation techniques will be cheaper.

    Perhaps! Maglev launch looks promising, as are scramjet technologies and jet-assist launches. The security risk of having an easy terrorist target like a space elevator may ensure that one is never built. One might be constructed on the Moon though, to help people build colonies in L1.