Rail Launchers to Space?
Now that is a launch picture. The U.S. Navy has officially started testing railgun prototypes by launching a projectile from the 32-megajoule demonstrator built by BAE systems about a month ago. A second prototype, built by General Atomics, is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in April. As the Navy explains, a railgun uses electricity, not chemical propellants: "Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph." We noticed when they began seriously nosing around this technology, since it could potentially be used to toss supplies into orbit. Unfortunately, not much as been pursued in that direction since 2010 -- maybe if the Navy perfects it we'll get to revisit rail launchers soon.
Photo: U.S. Navy