New Launch Technology Idea Gains Ground
A team including members from multiple NASA centers has been formed to examine the feasibility of an electromagnetic-catapult concept as a key component for new launch technologies.
Stanley Starr, a Kennedy Space Center, Fla., physicist, and engineers Paul Bartoiotta at Glenn Research Center, Cleveland, and Dryden’s Kurt Kloesel are developing a proposal for the launch system. The proposal is being developed for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and the Office of the Chief Technologist.
Engineers at Langley Research Center, Va., also are becoming interested in the concept because it could potentially satisfy gross takeoff weight and wing loading requirements for a future two-stage-to-orbit vehicle with a staged ramjet or scramjet engine, Kloesel said.
Popular Science magazine ran an article and cover graphic in the December issue to draw interest in the technology. That published account sparked more interest from a number of NASA researchers across the agency. Those researchers then decided to joined together to develop the current feasibility study.
Kloesel began work on the concept of what he calls a highly reliable reusable launch system with the help of the Innovative Partnerships Program Seed Fund in 2008. Since then, his idea of packaging technologies to develop an electromagnetic launch assist vehicle has continued to generate interest.
In practice, such a vehicle would use the equivalent of an electromagnetic catapult for a first stage. The propulsion from the electromagnetic forces would move a spacecraft along a rail system, with a secondary stage completing the job of propelling the vehicle into space, Kloesel explained.
This technology could be matured from a concept into a launch capability that will take spacecraft to low Earth orbit at lower cost, in a more environmentally friendly way and with greater reliability, he added.
Kloesel is quick to add that he didn’t originate all of the elements of the electromagnetic launch assist vehicle and that he continually seeks help from people he thinks can help evolve the concept. He envisions a first stage, electromagnetic launch concept that has a second-stage, hybrid air-breathing system.
With the need for new launch technologies growing, the team of NASA researchers looking into this concept may be able to contribute a key component to the development of a next generation launch system.