Electromagnetic Launch: Highway to the Stars
MetadataShow full item record
The future of large-scale space industrialization is considered and the key role of Earth-to-space electromagnetic launch is projected. The energetic relationships of the orbits of cislunar space and trajectories are outlined so as to set the stage for understanding requirements of' an Earth-to-space launcher. Historical analogies of the progression and maturation of transportation technologies are given: Ming Dynasty vs. Portuguese and Spanish navies in 15th century; C&O Canal vs. B&O Railroad in 19th century. Evidence is given that today's chemically propelled Earth-to-space launch is now a mature technology unlikely to yield to further major reductions in cost or increases in performance. The underlying factor behind the seemingly premature plateau in rocket technology is identified: performance in even the ultimate theoretical ideal is an exponential function of both the specific impulse of the fuel and the kinetic energy change required. Electromagnetic launch as an alternative is examined. A point design is presented of an Earth-to-space electromagnetic launcher which approaches ideal efficiency: a superconductor quench launch of a high-ballistic-coefficient vehicle. Examples are calculated of how given muzzle velocities and vehicle ballistic coefficients translate into orbits and payloads attained. This design exercise identifies required enabling technologies and the research efforts now underway which may lead to desirable superconductors and vehicle structural/heat shield materials in the near future.