China Wants To Fire Astronauts Into Space Using An Electromagnetic Railgun

Getting astronauts into space requires an incredible amount of fuel. The Saturn V rocket that launched the Apollo missions into space, for instance, carried 770,000 liters (203,400 gallons) of kerosene fuel, as well as liquid oxygen to allow combustion to take place.

Scientists have dreamed of alternative methods of escaping our atmosphere, including concepts such as space elevators, where an elevator would run us from ground level all the way up to space. Unfortunately, this concept is not achievable with current technology. 

Startup SpinLaunch has also created a centrifugal launch system, which fires a payload at over 1,600 kilometers per hour (1,000 miles per hour). While potentially a lot cheaper, more fuel efficient, and more sustainable, the system is unsuitable for launching astronauts. The system spins to an incredible rate, with the payload experiencing around 10,000 g. Fighter pilots, trained to deal with high acceleration, can manage a few seconds of 9 g, but sustained exposure to g-forces over 6 is fatal to humans.

            

Scientists in China are working on a different way to launch spaceships, with the added benefit of not killing all the astronauts on board: an electromagnetic railgun to fire their astronauts into space. 

According to Chinese news outlet the South China Morning Post, the idea is to accelerate a hypersonic spacecraft along a giant electromagnetic launch track, launching it at Mach 1.6. The craft would then ignite its own engines and leave Earth’s atmosphere at around seven times the speed of sound.

So far, scientists have tested the idea on a 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) maglev track, firing heavy objects along it at speeds of nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour (620 miles per hour), with plans to increase the length of the track and increase these speeds fivefold.

It’s still early days, so don’t expect it to happen any time soon. But who knows, perhaps one day astronauts will begin their journeys into space with a trip on a giant ACME-style catapult. 

[H/T: Futurism]

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