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
designs, and solar
sails, but these technologies lack the impulse and thrust to
accelerate a launch vehicle into orbit. However,
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 barrelBy 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.
quote: Obviously, the ideal angle would be perpendicular to the earth's surface for the quickest escape from dense air friction but that would require quite a tall structure.