Tuesday, December 21, 2010

NASA Proposes Combining a Rail Gun and Scramjet.

With current technology, it costs $450 million each time a space shuttle is launched... with costs like that, it's no wonder NASA is finding alternate ways to get our asses into space.
Last spring President Obama urged NASA to come up with a cheaper method of launching spacecraft. Less than a year later the answer may be the combination of a Rail Gun and a Scramjet..... the idea is 'simple':  We just need two miles of train track, an airplane that can fly 10x the speed of sound and a jolt of electricity that can power a small town!
The system calls for a two-mile- long rail gun that will launch a scramjet, which will then fly to 200,000 feet. The scramjet will then fire a payload into orbit and return to Earth. The process is more complex than a rocket launch, but engineers say it’s also more flexible. With it, NASA could orbit a 10,000-pound satellite one day and send a manned ship toward the moon the next, on a fraction of the propellant used by today’s rockets.
Sound like something out of a sci-fi movie. Think again, it turns out all the pieces to this plan already exists and are being tested as we speak... it just needs to be put together. This new launching method is also said to be safer than a traditional launch using rocket fuel propellant.
This is how it works: 

Rev Up The Rail Gun: 
A 240,000-horsepower linear motor converts 180 megawatts into an electromagnetic force that propels a scramjet carrying a spacecraft down a two-mile-long track. The craft accelerates from 0 to 1,100 mph (Mach 1.5) in under 60 seconds— fast, but at less than 3 Gs, safe for manned flight.

Fire The Scramjet: 
The pilot fires a high-speed turbojet and launches from the track. Once the craft hits Mach 4, the air flowing through the jet intake is fast enough that it compresses, heats to 3,000ºF, and ignites hydrogen in the combustion chamber, producing tens of thousands of pounds of thrust.

Get Into Orbit: 
At an altitude of 200,000 feet, there isn’t enough air for the scramjet, now traveling at Mach 10, to generate thrust. Here spaceflight begins. The two craft separate, and the scramjet pitches downward to get out of the way as the upper spacecraft fires tail rockets that shoot it into orbit.

Stick The Landing: 
The scramjet slows and uses its turbojets to fly back to Earth for a runway landing. Once the spacecraft delivers its payload into orbit, it reenters the atmosphere and glides back to the launch site. The two craft can be ready for another mission within 24 hours of landing.

via popsci

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