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NASA engineers are developing a radical new form of launch that begins aboard an electrified track similar to that of a rollercoaster.  (Source: NASA)

The sled would then fling a scramjet into the air, which would activate and rocket to the upper atmosphere. Once in the upper atmosphere, the scramjet would fire a capsule launch vehicle into space as the final step.  (Source: NASA/Artist concept)
New launch system could be used for manned launches and satellite launches

NASA's budget may be cut, but that hasn't stopped the first international organization to put a man on the Moon from dreaming big.  One key question the agency is looking at is what the next big thing in space propulsion will be.  NASA and foreign space agencies have examined plasma enginesion enginesnuclear-powered designs, and solar sails, but these technologies lack the impulse and thrust to accelerate a launch vehicle into orbit. 

However, NASA's latest proposal may be the most creative idea of them all and has the potential to be relatively affordable.  The new proposal starts by placing a sled on electric tracks -- NASA's sled needs to reach a whopping 600 mph (appr. 1,000 km/h).

At the end of the track, the passenger vehicle, which rests atop the sled, will be flung off, launching at extreme speed.  The passenger vehicle would be a wedge-shaped aircraft, with scramjets aboard, which would activate upon launch.  Those scramjets would accelerate the aircraft to Mach 10.

Wings would gradually angle the craft into the Earth's upper atmosphere.  At the boundaries of the Earth's atmosphere, the scramjet would fire the actual spacecraft -- a capsule.  The maneuver would be akin to firing a round out of a barrel

By using mechanical motion to launch the craft, instead of expensive chemical boosters, the cost of launches could dramatically decrease.

NASA's Stan Starr, branch chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, says the technology to achieve this type of launch isn't that far away.  In a released statement, he explains, "All of these are technology components that have already been developed or studied.  We're just proposing to mature these technologies to a useful level, well past the level they've already been taken.  Essentially you bring together parts of NASA that aren't usually brought together."

Engineers at NASA and the U.S. Air Force have worked on a variety of scramjet projects thus far, including the X-43A and X-51 (a missile design).  So far these programs have had a couple of successful launches and tests under their belt, raising hopes that the technology can soon be applied to projects like the launcher.

Mr. Starr and other NASA engineers have assembled a proposal to build the system, which they're dubbing the Advanced Space Launch System.  They're seeking grants from a variety of sources.

Under the plan Langley Research Center in Virginia, Glenn Research Center in Ohio, and Ames Research Center in California would build and test the parts of the hypersonic aircraft.  Dryden Research Center in California, Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and Marshall, along with the Kennedy Space Center would engineer the rail track.  The plan calls for an actual two-mile long test track to be laid down parallel to the crawlway that the Shuttle used to be transported along to Launch Pad 39A.  Mr. Starr comments, "I still see Kennedy's core role as a launch and landing facility."

The 10-year plan for the launch platform calls for the program to begin with launching small drones -- like those used by the Air Force -- into orbit.  This would be followed by satellite launches.  If all goes according to plan, the system could eventually be used for low-cost manned mission launches, as well.

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By guacamojo on 9/15/2010 11:41:18 AM , Rating: 0
We can never control gravity, we will simply find ways around it.

Ways around it?

Are you proposing that we will somehow be able to get out of our gravity well for free?

If you could turn gravity off, you could float a very large weight (like the ocean or something) away from Earth. You could then turn gravity back on, and use the weight to spin a generator and make electricity!

You would have created a perpetual motion machine.

By AssBall on 9/15/2010 12:03:29 PM , Rating: 2
Thermodynamics notwithstanding? Just turn those off too. Damn things.

By Mitch101 on 9/15/2010 12:47:02 PM , Rating: 5
Couldnt one run around Rosie O'donell and Oprah using the slingshot effect from thier gravity to launch ones self into space?

By Manch on 9/15/2010 4:59:44 PM , Rating: 3
Only by using a klingon Bird of Prey but that would also take you back to the 80's to save the whales.......ughhhh the 80's....

Of course this would be beneficial because you could stop Michael from turning white and then a ghost.....

.....too soon?

By MozeeToby on 9/15/2010 5:08:43 PM , Rating: 2
Of course this would be beneficial because you could stop Michael from turning white
Little known fact, his autopsy confirmed what he had always claimed; he never bleached his skin, he actually suffered from an extreme form of Vitiligo.

Normally the pigment loss is only in patches (I have a few inches around one eye and a few spots on my shins), but in some people it spreads to their whole body. Supposedly it started on his hand, which is why he started wearing the single glove way back in the 80's.

By MozeeToby on 9/15/2010 5:09:52 PM , Rating: 2
Well, that obviously wasn't the link I was going for:

By Manch on 9/15/2010 5:19:26 PM , Rating: 2 travel, Klingons, rosie, oprah, whales, time travel, 80s.....,Michael, ghosts.

By Fritzr on 9/16/2010 1:12:31 AM , Rating: 2
Space Ghost to the rescue!!!

By AstroGuardian on 9/15/2010 12:19:54 PM , Rating: 2
which is impossible to build :)

By Belard on 9/15/2010 12:26:16 PM , Rating: 2
Just need to have your handy dandy anti-gravity module up and running.

Its very simple, you know.

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