Show Details

Rail-Space Launcher

October 18, 2010

Giving spacecraft a running start on a long rail may significantly reduce launch costs.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Railing toward space…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The next generation of spacecraft may be much cheaper to launch, thanks to a running start on a horizontal rail up to two miles long. Physicist Stanley Starr of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center works on the project. He says that like the third rail of a train track, a rail could provide much of the launch power to an airplane-like craft. That means the craft itself could be significantly lighter.

STANLEY STARR (NASA-Kennedy Space Center):
If you think about a commercial jet, the jet’s engines work the hardest during takeoff. And by assisting that takeoff, we can significantly shrink the mass of those engines.

HIRSHON:
The craft would take off from the rail like a supersonic jet. Once it reached the upper atmosphere, a more conventional booster would send the payload into space. Starr says the basic technology for the system already exists – it just needs to be taken up a few notches. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.