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Space Science Technology

Startram — Maglev Train To Low Earth Orbit 356

Posted by Soulskill
from the easy-to-build-just-add-unlimited-funding dept.
Zothecula writes "Getting into space is one of the harder tasks to be taken on by humanity. The present cost of inserting a kilogram of cargo by rocket into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is about US$10,000. A manned launch to LEO costs about $100,000 per kilogram of passenger. But who says we have to reach orbit by means of rocket propulsion alone? Instead, imagine sitting back in a comfortable magnetic levitation train and taking a train ride into orbit."
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Startram — Maglev Train To Low Earth Orbit

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  • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:07PM (#39302839) Homepage

    Now, how is this going to work?

    • by busyqth (2566075) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:12PM (#39302927)
      200 million amperes of current running down a 1000 km long superconducting cable. In other words: it's child;s play.
      • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:5, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:27PM (#39303169) Journal
        Do I want to know what the induced magnetic field capable of levitating 4 tons at a distance of 20km is going to do to my hemoglobin, or to my laptop?
        • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:42PM (#39303417)

          I'm guessing accelerate it at 3gs for a period of 5 minutes.

          If the craft is designed with any level of extraplanetary shielding in mind, it'll be able to reduce the EM bleedthrough to significantly below MRI levels, and 5 minutes in an MRI is generally not considered hazardous for a human. If they can't reasonably reduce the EM effect onboard low enough to be safe for electronics, you will probably have a secure faraday box to stow them in during launch.

        • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:5, Interesting)

          by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:44PM (#39303439) Homepage Journal

          I know that a sample of one is insignifigant, but my dad was a lineman working with voltages up to 90k. He could not wear a wristwatch unless it was completely made of non-ferrous material, because when he put it on after work, an hour later it stopped. Apparently his hemoglobin was magnetized. Yet he's now 80 and still in good health.

          I wouldn't worry about the magnetic fields. Apparently having your blood megnetized is harmless.

          Of course, the fact that his uncle started smoking cigarettes at age 12, quit at age 82 and lived ten more years illustrates that a sample of one is indeed insignifigant and perhaps meaningless. Me, I'd risk magnetic blood for a chance to go to outer space anyway, as I have half of dad's genes.

          • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Entropius (188861) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:52PM (#39303563)

            Wow. That's pretty damn impressive -- that despite the fluid nature of blood the spins retained magnetic order over macroscopic distances *after* bouncing around through his arteries.

            • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:5, Informative)

              by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:21PM (#39304009)

              The blood system does carry an electrical current, so it makes sense that there would be a related magnetic field. And (speculating) if a large number of individual cells had become weakly magnetized (acquired some magnetic alignment in materials in the cell), then it stands to reason that they would continue to maintain some small level of orientation for a while, as each one tends to encourage the neighbors to stay aligned.

              Look up "Biologically Closed Electrical Circuits, by Björn Nordenström a very well-regarded pathologist, who was allowed in the 1960s to perform studies and experiments on terminally ill patients. He proved that there is an electrical current that flows through your blood stream, and that any inflammation involves a current flow as well. There's like a little fountain of current through that owie on your hand. Also through cancers, etc. In his experiments (on patients who were terminally ill of at least two different diseases, a requirement required to allow him to do the work), he was also able to show that many such diseases - cancerous lesions among others - could be shrunk and actually cured by reversing the current flow.

              The original book of that title is oriented toward researchers in that field, is very technical and very expensive - IIRC $700? - but it is often available at college libraries, and there are several other books that are oriented more toward non-technical readers. There is also an association [readywebsites.com] that has been supporting ongoing research, some of which has shown very encouraging results with localized tumors.

              Dr. Nordenström was quite familiar with negative reactions from his colleagues. As his accomplishments grew, he became Head of Diagnostic Radiology at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden. He also authored or co-authored more than 150 publications in radiology, electrobiology and pharmacology. He was a member of the Nobel Assembly from 1967 through 1986, and served as President of the Assembly in 1985. Even with these credentials, many of his ideas, such as needle biopsy and balloon catheterization were initially met with significant amounts of opposition by his peers.

          • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:18PM (#39303961)

            Apparently his hemoglobin was magnetized. Yet he's now 80 and still in good health.

            Another benefit is that when you're lost, you can just float your dad in a lake as a compass...

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You can't use your laptop at take off because the rocket will fall out of the sky.

        • Re:Fucking magnets (Score:5, Informative)

          by Cyberax (705495) on Friday March 09, 2012 @04:09PM (#39304745)

          Absolutely nothing at all. Magnetic field drops off according to inverse _cube_ law. So the field will be barely detectable at that distance.

    • Obviously we'll need some miracles.
  • Train romance (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tangy (1270364) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:08PM (#39302857) Homepage
    Every step towards "Galaxy Express 999" is a step in the right direction.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:10PM (#39302875)

    If I'm going to fantasize about shit that will never be built, I'd rather dream of the sexbot. Oh perfect robotic woman---who is always horny, cooks and cleans, never wants diamonds, has no parents, never drones about about some bitch at work, never cheats, never complains about wanting a bigger house or nicer car---how I dream of thee.

  • I'm assuming the weather control satellites will steer hurricanes away from this monstrous sitting duck?
  • Sodor (Score:3, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany (2428506) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:14PM (#39302955)

    So will the spaceport will be built at Sodor?

  • Looks that the investment, time, resources, etc should be orders above of the ones needed for a space elevator, and even that one is pretty hard to ever happen.
    • 35756 Km of cable is going to weigh quite a bit no matter what you make it out of, multiply that by $10,000 per Kg and you've got one heck of a problem to solve right there when it comes to building a space elevator. Several non-rocket launch technologies, the star tram included, can be build from the ground, you could build the whole thing without a single rocket launch. The same can be said about space fountains and (my personal non-rocket launch technology) launch loops.

      • There are many unsolved issues with regards to a Space Elevator, but lifting 36,000 km of cable isn't necessarily one of the most significant problems. Most projections or descriptions I've come across describe things such that we would manufacture and lower the cable from orbit. Now granted, this itself presents many problems since you would have to create all that infrastructure "up there" and then find/capture source material. But you also need to do that for the counterweight. You're certainly not g

  • I can't see anything impractical or horrifically energy-intensive about this system.

  • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:17PM (#39303019)

    1. Requires no materials we don't already have
    2. Would allow for continuous launches. This tube could be used every 15 minutes or so for another payload
    3. Fairly massively spaceships could be launched this way
    4. Once you get into LEO, getting around in space is relatively easy and cheap.

    Downsides : the forces involved here are extreme. There's enormous magnetic fields, the whole structure is suspended in the air, it's over 1000 miles long, and depends on various complex pieces of tech to not rip itself apart. If the vacuum leaks or the plasma window fails or a magnet gets too much current, a chunk or even the whole damn launcher could spectacularly fail.

    In addition, the estimated costs have got to be a factor of 10 too optimistic. 60 billion dollars? For something constructed of tens of thousands of miles of superconducting cable and a structure made to aerospace engineering tolerances that is 1000 miles long? Even 600 billion sounds optimistic for something that large.

    • umm where do i go and buy a plasma window? or the materials that can handle the strain of this? nothing this thing is made of can be made by modern materials...

    • by RogueLeaderX (845092) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:42PM (#39303407)

      1. Requires no materials we don't already have 2. Would allow for continuous launches. This tube could be used every 15 minutes or so for another payload 3. Fairly massively spaceships could be launched this way 4. Once you get into LEO, getting around in space is relatively easy and cheap.

      Downsides : the forces involved here are extreme. There's enormous magnetic fields, the whole structure is suspended in the air, it's over 1000 miles long, and depends on various complex pieces of tech to not rip itself apart. If the vacuum leaks or the plasma window fails or a magnet gets too much current, a chunk or even the whole damn launcher could spectacularly fail.

      In addition, the estimated costs have got to be a factor of 10 too optimistic. 60 billion dollars? For something constructed of tens of thousands of miles of superconducting cable and a structure made to aerospace engineering tolerances that is 1000 miles long? Even 600 billion sounds optimistic for something that large.

      The Gizmag author forgot to read these guys web-page apparently.

      Whitepaper
      FAQ

      The version the 'requires no materials we don't have today' is built into the side of a mountain and would kill any person you tried to launch using it. Basically a massive rail-gun for getting payloads to orbit. They're especially interested in space based solar power generation. (Because launching solar panels into space and beaming the power down to a receiving station near population centers is better than putting solar panels in the desert and running power to city centers via cables?)

      • by busyqth (2566075)

        They're especially interested in space based solar power generation. (Because launching solar panels into space and beaming the power down to a receiving station near population centers is better than putting solar panels in the desert and running power to city centers via cables?)

        Putting solar panels in the desert isn't feasible because you'd need a 1000km long superconducting cable to carry the power to the cities...

    • In addition, the estimated costs have got to be a factor of 10 too optimistic. 60 billion dollars? For something constructed of tens of thousands of miles of superconducting cable and a structure made to aerospace engineering tolerances that is 1000 miles long? Even 600 billion sounds optimistic for something that large.

      Not to mention that the idea is that the entire tube holds a vacuum, which buoys it up, and it's held DOWN with tethers. How do you even construct that? There are no cranes to LEO. Even if you put them in place, and empty out the gas slowly so that it rises (without coming to a sudden stop at the end that breaks a tether), each segment is probably hundreds of pounds of metal. Imagine being miles in the air, wrestling with an enormous hunk of metal that's tied to the earth in what you can only hope is th

    • by HiThere (15173)

      I wouldn't say it's a factor of 10 too expensive. Instead I'd say that a lot of development work needs to be done on simpler projects...like mag-lev trains for cross-continental travel, and a few other sub-components. Each one of the needed technologies can be developed in the process of constructing something useful, so you don't need to charge the developmental work against the launch device.

      As for magnetic problems, Faraday cages are old technology that still works, and anything built out of steel can

  • From the article:

    "Estimates suggest that building a passenger-capable Startram would require 20 years and a construction budget (ignoring inflation and overoptimism) of about $60 billion."

    So, triple it for a realistic estimate: $180 billion. Now, that sounds like a lot of money, but when you consider that the total amount of money flushed down the toilet for the Iraq war will probably be an order of magnitude above that, it's play money. We just have to convince people that there's oil in LEO.

  • by tscheez (71929)

    a rail gun you can ride?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:26PM (#39303157)

    The energy requirements to get into orbit are practically the same no matter what method you use. Yes there is some savings from air resistance if you do it at a slower speed but it's not that much.

    The only savings will be from a safety standpoint or similar. The energy costs will still be enormous.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Posting Anon to save my mods. Don't the savings come in not accelerating your fuel?

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:48PM (#39303501) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, that's true, except in as much that it's not. This system would save you all the fuel it takes to launch all your fuel. The air resistance is anything but negligible at 7 times the speed of sound. That's disregarding the propulsion inefficiency of rocket fuel compared to magnetic force. Not to mention the risk/preparation costs for a launch. All estimates I've seen of the differences are measured in orders of magnitude. While a space elevator is generally considered impossible at this time, it really would be worth the cost.

    • The energy requirements to get into orbit are practically the same no matter what method you use.

      True, but very misleading. If you are in a rocket, the energy cost for the cargo is the same, but there is also the energy cost of getting all of the fuel that you need. A typical rocket getting to LEO or GEO is over 90% fuel, so under 10% of the energy cost of the launch is the cost of something that is not required if you are providing the impulse from the ground.

    • by HiThere (15173)

      It makes a big difference whether or not you need to lift part way up the fuel to take you the rest of the way up. That's the basic reason that rockets are so much less efficient than jet engines. (Jets only need to lift half their fuel.) With this approach you need to lift hardly any of the fuel you would use to get to orbit. Only enough to allow maneuvering. Of course, you still need the fuel that you're going to use while in space, but for that you can use one variety or another of electric rocket,

    • 10 megajoules of electricity is a lot easier to come by than 10 megajoules of rocket fuel, especially once I get up to a few 10's of km.

    • by Baloroth (2370816) on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:11PM (#39303881)

      The actual energy requirements to get into orbit are pretty small, when you run the math. A couple hundred kg at standard kWh costs would be a couple hundred USD (don't remember the exact numbers and don't feel like doing them again. I actually ran the math to get from Earth surface to infinity: LEO would be much cheaper). You also need to accelerate to get orbital velocity, but again that actually doesn't take that much energy. The problem is, rockets are extremely inefficient. Hence why people want space elevators: technically, you could get to space, personally, for 50-60 dollars using that method. Now, this is pure physics: the actual energy cost is much higher, but even assuming only decent energy efficiency, it still wouldn't cost more than a thousand or so after you get the system set up.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)
        For those who are curious, I ran some quick numbers on WolframAlpha. Using U=mgh as an accurate-enough measure, for a 100kg human to travel to LEO (300km) from Earth gravity (9.8 m/s) would be an energy cost of 294MJ. In kWh that is 82, or about $9 where I live. Technically, g diminishes as you go up, so it will be slightly less than that, but you get the point: the actual energy cost of getting to orbit isn't the problem. Moving upwards through 300km of mostly nothingness, is.
    • by gtbritishskull (1435843) on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:28PM (#39304103)
      The amount of energy required to get a kilogram into geosynchronous orbit is around 15kWh [wikipedia.org]. Assuming 10c per kWh (a pessimistic number since I pay ~5c/kWh to my utility company for my house), it should cost ~$1.50/kg to get something into geosynchronous orbit. I am pretty sure the space shuttle uses a lot more than 15kWh/kg to launch, considering that gasoline has 36kWh/gal (US). So, you are wrong unless you have some evidence that "no matter what method you use" you will get ~0.015% efficiency.
  • Image 4 looks way too much like an 1850's Toile pattern for this to possibly be a serious attempt to devise a way to get to space.

  • Better than the space tether crap which requires manufacturing capabilities we don't have.

    I like the idea of building it on the ground then mag lev'ing it up. Makes building it a lot easier....

    20 years is in my lifetime and 60 billion is less than 4 years of NASA's current budget. So 20 years of NASA's budget should easily be able to pay for this AND still have money for other stuff.

    • by demonbug (309515)

      Better than the space tether crap which requires manufacturing capabilities we don't have.

      I like the idea of building it on the ground then mag lev'ing it up. Makes building it a lot easier....

      20 years is in my lifetime and 60 billion is less than 4 years of NASA's current budget. So 20 years of NASA's budget should easily be able to pay for this AND still have money for other stuff.

      That might be the case if the estimate had any basis in reality whatsoever.
      Hell, a high-speed rail system of similar length to the launch track using conventional, proven technology is expected to cost around $100 billion [ca.gov]; evolutionary development of a new airliner is running about $30 billion [nwsource.com]; somehow I think it is extremely unlikely they could come anywhere near their cost estimate given the scale and number of unknowns here. It would probably take 50% of the budget just to design and build the launch veh

    • by Entropius (188861)

      The trouble is that it is impossible for the US government to accomplish any project of large enough size to be political and which will take more than four years.

      Well, unless it involves the military -- they've bamboozled the electorate into pretty consistently fellating them regardless of the wisdom of whatever it is they are doing.

  • by hbar squared (1324203) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:29PM (#39303215)
    " there is a superconducting cable on the ground carrying 200 million amperes, and a superconducting cable in the launch tube carrying 20 million amperes, at an altitude of 20 km there will be a levitating force of about 4 tons per meter of cable length"

    That works out to an energy density of (mgh)=1.5e9 J/m. Multiply that by 1600 km, and you get 2.5e15 J, or half a megaton, equivalent to the yield of a small hydrogen bomb. Anyone ever see a superconducting magnet quench?
  • Falling space junk, meteorites, and terrorist. Which one takes out the $60B elevator first?

    • Falling space junk, meteorites, and terrorist. Which one takes out the $60B elevator first?

      Oh will you people give it a fucking rest about terr'sts? I see this "oh but the Jihadists might try to attack it" on almost every single major engineering post on /. these days and it's getting on my wick. Why don't you demolish the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam before they get to those landmarks, hmm? Why don't you sit in the house and don't move in case anything bad happens?

      Christ, you'd think terrorism was invented in 2001 to listen to you. What do you think the people of Israel and Palestine have b

  • Uses already available technology?

    What like teleportation? If we're using already existing technology- why not teleport stuff up into space.

    OK- OK- so we have no Star Trek like teleportation yet... we also don't have space-trains yet either.

    Don't get me wrong sounds neat- if you ignore that it's an easy terrorist target/war target; vulnerable to natural disasters (cannot be moved); we have no concept of what it would realistically cost to build something like this- and you have the whole concept of NIMBY

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:31PM (#39303255) Homepage

    The thing that makes this such a ridiculous engineering project is the requirement to carry humans, who can't be subjected to more than about 3 g's. The length of the track is inversely proportional to the acceleration, so if you're sending up steel I-beams that can withstand 3000 g's, you can shorten the track to 1 mile rather than 1000 miles. Tanks of water and rocket fuel can also be subjected to a lot more than 3 g's.

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:31PM (#39303263)

    I was reading through it and initially thought it was just flinging the train from the ground up... but apparently it needs a TWELVE MILE HIGH RAMP!... that is not practical. If you used Mount Everest to get a head start it would help but it wouldn't get it near enough to that mark to matter. How the hell does anyone think building this would be possible?

    the space elevator ideas are less crazy and they're kookoo for cocopuffs...

    • You're imagining a 12 mile high roller coaster. They're proposing a pair of superconducting cables, one on the 'ramp' and one on the ground, that would repel each other, lifting the ramp into the air (stabilized by cables). Obviously there's some difficulties there, but they aren't talking about building a compressive structure 12 miles high. Personally I prefer the launch loop idea, which uses kinetic energy to hold the ramp and transfer power to the launch vehicle, since I feel there's less unknowns th

    • Make the acceleration track a helix and see if you can keep the gs down to 3gs with a reasonable diameter on the helix. I don't know, but I am not going to take a ride on it in my lifetime.

  • It only has to be 1000 miles long and 12 miles tall!

    Can we go back to making more cost effective wind turbines, please?

    • All the equations that say what is and isn't 'possible' in space are really describing what is and isn't economical. If you cut the cost of LEO by 2 or 3 orders of magnitude, lots of things that sound ridiculously impractical now become feasible. If you can cut the cost of LEO from $10,000 / kg to $100 / kg, space based solar becomes practical. If you drop it to $10 / kg it becomes the cheapest energy source available. And that's ignoring all the other benefits that cheap LEO travel would bring.

  • wtf? (Score:4, Funny)

    by jafac (1449) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:38PM (#39303337) Homepage

    Did I accidentally browse to "Popular Science Online"?

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:42PM (#39303413)

    In the US at least, we can't even get funding for maglev trains ON THE GROUND. Until the economy is better (in, oh in another 500 years or so) nobody is going to fund something like this.

  • Mt. Everest !!

    29,002 ft = 5 miles

  • Novel by Miyazawa Kenji: Night on the Galactic Railroad [wikipedia.org]
    Manga & Anime: Ginga Tetsudou 999 [wikipedia.org]

  • ...but better suited for a sci-fi novel rather than any serious contemplation. Look at all the trouble we have with building tall buildings AND magnetic installations. We are no where NEAR ready to take on something like this.

    Kind of like the space elevator. Another concept that's several hundred years away from practicality, if ever.

    I'd rather see us spend some real effort in improving the tech we currently have and are stuck with for the foreseeable future.

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