News from Space: The Slingatron

slingatronPlacing things into orbit is something humanity has been doing since the 1940’s, beginning with Germany’s V2 Rockets, then giving way to artificial satellites like Sputnik in the 1950’s. These efforts really came into their own during the 1960’s and since, when manned missions reached high orbit and even the Moon. But despite all these  milestones, little has been done to address the problems of cost.

Ever since space travel began in earnest, the only way to send satellites, supplies and shuttle craft into orbit has been with rockets. Even at its cheapest, a space launch can still cost an estimated $2000 per pound per mission, due to the fact that the rockets employed are either destroyed or rendered unusable once they’ve completed their mission.

slingatron-20Attempts to create reusable launch systems, like the SpaceX Grasshopper, is one solution. But another involves “slinging” payloads into orbit, rather than launching them. That’s what HyperV Technologies Corp. of Chantilly, Virginia is hoping to achieve with their design for a “mechanical hypervelocity mass accelerator”, otherwise known as a “slingatron”.

Invented by Derek Tidman in the 1990s, the slingatron replaces rockets with a more sophisticated version of the sling. However, the principle differs somewhat in that the device uses something far more sophisticated than circumferential force. In the end, the name cyclotron might be more apt, which is a very simple particle accelerator.

 

slingatron-11Utilizing a vacuum tube and a series of magnetic/electostatic plates of opposing charges, an atomic particle (such as a proton) is introduced and sent back and forth as the polarity of the plates are flipped. As the frequency of the flipping is increased, the proton moved faster and faster in a series of spirals until it reaches the rim and shoots out a window at extremely high velocity.

The slingatron achieves the same result, but instead uses a spiral tube which gyrate on a series of flywheels along its length. As the slingatron gyrates, a projectile is introduced and the centripetal force pulls the projectile along. As the projectile slides through larger and larger turns of the spiral, the centripetal forces increase until the projectile shoots out the muzzle, traveling at several kilometers per second.

slingatron-13Ultimately, the goal here is to build a slingatron big enough to fire a projectile at velocities exceeding 7 km/s (25,000 km/h, 15,600 mph) to put it into orbit. With rapid turnarounds and thousands of launches per year while all of the launch system remains on Earth, the developers claim that the slingatron will offer lower costs for getting payloads into orbit.

However, there are weaknesses to this idea as well. For starters, any projectile going into space will also need to be fitted a small set of rockets for final orbit insertion and corrections. In addition, the G-forces involved in such launches would be tremendous – up to 60,000 times the force of gravity – which means it would be useless for sending up manned missions.

slingatron-15In the end, only the most solid state and hardened of satellites would have a chance of survival. The developers say that a larger slingatron would reduce the forces, but even with a reduction by a factor of 10,000, it would still be restricted to very robust cargoes. This makes it an attractive options for sending supplies into space, but not much else.

Still, given the costs associated with keeping the ISS supplied, and ensuring that future settlements in space have all the goods and equipment they need, a series of slingatrons may be a very viable solution in the not-to-distant future. Combined with concepts like the space penetrator, which fired bullet-like spaceships into space, the cost associated with space travel may be dropping substantially in coming decades.

All of this could add up to a great deal more space traffic coming to and from Earth in the not-too-distant future as well. I hope we have the foresight to construct some “space lanes” and keep them open! And in the meantime, enjoy this video interview of Dr. F. Douglas Witherspoon explaining the concept of the slingatron:

Source: gizmag.com

Iran Launches Monkey Into Space (Apparently)

iran_rocketIn spite of years being under a trade embargo, Iran claims to be making some rather interesting breakthroughs. In addition to drones, long range missiles and stealth aircraft, they now claim to have sent a primate into space. According to the state news network, the successful flight involved a relatively small rocket that went straight up and down, and is a “prelude to sending humans.” Oh, and the monkey arrived safe and sound.

Whereas some defense analysts in the US and other nations worry that this was a demonstration of potential military might, others see it in different terms. For example, Jonathan McDowell – a Harvard astronomer who tracks rocket launches and space activity – claims that the exercise was merely a step towards Iran’s stated goal of developing rockets that could send human astronauts into space, a goal Tehran has repeated publicly for more than a year.

Alive, but not comfortable!
Alive, but not comfortable!

“It doesn’t demonstrate any militarily significant technology,” he said. “This is a tiny old rocket, and what’s on top is useful only for doing astronaut stuff.” Charles P. Vick, an expert on Iranian rockets at GlobalSecurity.org, went farther, stating that the report may have been a fabrication, seeing as how Iran tried and failed to perform the same launch operation back in 2011.
Naturally, there was also the propaganda value of the feet. James E. Oberg, a former NASA engineer and author of a dozen books on human spaceflight, claim that “to a large degree, it’s a fig leaf.” Apparently, such peaceful flights could take global attention off the nation’s military feats and ambitions, comparable to what North Korea does with much of its research and development programs.

In any case, the reportedly successful launch of the Kavoshgar-class rocket – which went by the name of Pishgam (trans: Pioneer) –  came amidst announcements by Iranian sources that stated they were developing a space capsule meant to hold human astronauts. “It’s based on Chinese technology,” Mr. Vick said, adding that Iran had nearly completed a large new launching pad big enough for powerful rockets that could loft warheads, satellites or people into space.

In short, we can expect little in the way of clarity and plenty in the way of worrying from western analysts over this latest development. And of course, as usual, the monkey always get forgotten in the mix! One thing that was not reported on was the brave little astronauts name. After all we’ve put them through for the sake of advances space travel, don’t the space monkeys deserve the same kind credit as human astronauts? Hell, even Russia put Laika on a commemorative stamp!

laika-stampSee? Guess you got to die if you’re an animal and want some recognition around here! Rest in peace Laika! Click on the links below to read more:

Source: The New York Times.com, Universtoday.com