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Sunday February 5, 2006
A Ramp You Can Jump A Planet With
I've been reading lots of science-y stuff in the last couple of days, and this was some of the most interesting. Sky Ramp Technology is a non-profit group of scientists and engineers promoting a fairly simple (though revolutionary) method for 1st-stage launches.
When I say simple, it's just that: build an inclined rail, put a maglev sled on it, and put your single-stage reusable launch vehicle (they call it an RLV, but I just think "spaceship") on that.
Then you fling it up into the air using ground-based power sources, and the rockets only light off once it's already doing Mach 1.
Skyramp proponents claim that this could cut launch costs by 90%, and increase payload sizes thanks to the reduced demand for fuel.
In Michael Flynn's Firestar a similarly simple system is used to fling canisters of supplies into orbit - a very, VERY long-barreled fuel-air-explosive-powered "cannon" in Central America. In that case the canisters only reached low-Earth orbit (LEO) and had to be retrieved by shuttles already in the right place, but the principle is still the same: the more of your fuel you can keep on the ground, the less it costs to launch your stuff into orbit.
But the Sky Ramp is plain old science and engineering -- not science fiction. Have a look.