Sometimes, the way something is said, can finally make it heard.
Most of us know of the extreme cost and difficulty of getting up to space, even just to LEO, which puts a severe limit on what we can do in space; yet, are there other ways?
The 6 billion dollar each Space Shuttle, with its 40 million dollar each launch costs, lifts its huge fuel tanks up on an impressive blast of fire and smoke, risking the lives of seven people on board, maybe to stay in LEO a couple of weeks doing good up there, then a fiery return to earth like a meteor to throw away their energy enough to finish with a glide home.
If someone says that our technology could soon (in a couple decades) be building huge solar-electric powerplants, spaceports, even huge rotating passively shielded cities like the Stanford Torus, and total recycling plants, lifting vast numbers of people up there to live and work in GEO, all done cheaply enough to make it economical ... the person saying that would be totally nuts, right?
I don’t think so, and let me tell you why. I agree it cannot be done with anything like the Space Shuttle, conventional rocketry; but the Space Shuttle has done its job as a powerful steppingstone to space, and done it well. It has shown that we can live and work in space, and is still proving that more.
But now picture, with me, a series of ideas, with the intent of finding a basic mechanism for an adequate way to access space.
Start with picturing a hoop, one that is rotating rapidly around its circumference, like a wheel rotates. That rapid rotation, spin, causes the hoop to have an outward stretch force, away from its center. (Perhaps also think of a lasso, a spinning circle of rope, as somewhat comparable.)
In your mind imagine this hoop is so big that it encircles the whole earth, and is placed above the earth’s equator, say at some Low Earth Orbit altitude, and its rotational spin were identical to the orbital velocity at that altitude. The outward spin rotational centrifugal force would cancel out the inward force of earth’s gravity on the mass of the material of which the hoop was made. In other words, all parts of the hoop would be in orbit, coasting along staying up there.
Now accelerate the hoop spin rate to twice the orbital velocity there. The outward centrifugal force could press upward with just enough force to support the stationary mass of another hoop, similar to itself but not rotating, the outer hoop being stationary relative to the earth. In other words, the mass of an orbiting object, restrained from rising to a higher orbit, when doubled in velocity, presses outward, upward relative to the center of the earth, against the restraining object, such that its force can support exactly its own mass equivalent of the restraining object.
So let’s make that restraining object be another hoop just above the spinning first hoop around the earth, and for now assume that they slide against each other with little or no friction. Let the mass of the two hoops be equal; the outer, upper, hoop is motionless relative to the earth below it, while the inner, lower, hoop is going twice orbital velocity at that altitude above the equator. The upward centrifugal force balances the downward gravitational force, it all stays in place.
The special thing to notice here is that the weight of a mass that is not rotating relative to the earth is being fully supported up there in space, without further expenditure of energy to keep it there.
What we are looking for here, is a way to get from ground to space; so let's pull one edge of the hoop pair down to connect with the earth at the equator, and fasten the upper, earth-motionless hoop to the ground there on the equator. Since the mass in the rapidly rotating lower, inner, hoop is now rising and falling as well as going around the planet, the shape of the hoop pair needs to be the shape of an ellipse, and the inner hoop needs to stretch or be segmented to accommodate the velocity changes due to continuous exchange of kinetic energy with potential energy of height above the planet all along its path. Let’s also use the earth-stationary hoop to form into a tube where it is within the earth’s atmosphere, so that the speeding inner hoop has a hard vacuum to travel in all along its way, no atmosphere to fight through.
So, now the earth-stationary hoop could be a roadway, something we could climb up from the ground at the equator, and reach space high above the opposite side of the earth. The inner rotating hoop then going a little bit faster so as to balance the force of gravity on our mass added as we climb the outer, earth-stationary hoop, of course. Are you beginning to get the picture?
To make this into a fully useful system for space access, Let’s add a few frills.
One frill is to make the sliding surface between the two hoops be of low-loss inductive magnetic levitation track nature. Very slippery track connecting the two hoops.
Another frill is to stretch the height of the upward part of the hoop pair until it reaches Geostationary Earth Orbit, so that an object brought up the hoop from the ground, and released there at GEO, will stay up there instead of falling back to the ground when released. No rocket needed to put it into orbit.
And a third frill, to put more maglev tracks along the outer surface of the stationary hoop’s surface, along which payload-carrying attached spacecraft slide along that hoop, all the way up from the equatorial ground to GEO.
Note that the pair of hoops form a kind of stator and armature of a synchronous electric motor. So add another frill such that the upward-moving portions of the inner high velocity hoop electrodynamically drags against parts of the spacecraft, thus exerting an upward lifting force on the spacecraft, to lift them up from the ground up to GEO; spin the inner hoop, the electric motor's armature, a bit faster so as to deliver the lift energy force lifting spacecraft with their payload from ground to space.
This is the main point of the structure, to lift spacecraft from the ground up into orbit, the spacecraft don't need to lift any fuel to get to space or having to lift the weight of rocket motors for the trip; and no energy has to be received beamed at the spacecraft, nor are there friction drives between the spacecraft and the structure, to climb up the structure to space. Just slippery maglev guideway tracks between the structure and the spacecraft, and magnetic brakes inductively coupled to the speedy rising parts of the inner hoop to lift the spacecraft with its payload, all the way up to GEO.
Another frill is that spacecraft descending the earth-stationary hoop, drags braking electrodynamically against it so as to gently return them to the ground. This drag has an outward component to its motion along the hoop, which is upward relative to the earth, adding lift energy to the hoop; thus this is reclaimed energy put back into the system as it descends, note.
To input energy into the system to make it go, put the armature-stator electromagnetic interface at the earth surface contact site, to speed up the rotating armature hoop to input the energy as kinetic energy of the armature mass stream.
So we now have outlined a system to electrically lift payload from ground to GEO, and to gently return the spacecraft back to ground while returning some of the energy to the system as it lowers. That is, a transportation system fulfilling our purpose we started with: a potentially highly efficient way to get from the ground into orbit.
What about the energy cost of this transportation, recalling the huge fuel tanks, the massive fire and smoke of lift and reentry of the space shuttle, lots of wasted energy going on there, but necessary for rocket transportation that way. So our hoop transportation structure would lift differently, but at what energy cost? The energy actually acquired by payload in the process of being lifted from earth’s equator up to GEO at orbital velocity there, is only 7.15 KWh per pound mass. If the cost of energy delivered to the hoop’s acceleration site is say, 10 cents per KWh as common nowadays, that is 71.5 cents per pound lifted to GEO. There will be losses in a real physical system of course, adding to the amount of energy consumed in the transportation process. The electrical power eventually could come from Satellite Solar Powerplants built in GEO, lifted up there through the use of this transportation system, which thereafter would specify the energy cost of payload lift.
So we now have outlined a transportation system which has a whole new set of characteristics and uses, as compared to rocket launch space access.
Rockets, including the Space Shuttle, have shown that we can live and work in space. Now let’s explore what we can do there in space, big time, with our new kind of transportation system that we have outlined here.
What could we do with extremely cheap, continuously operating, high capacity lift from the ground up to GEO? For starters, consider the aforementioned Satellite Solar Power Stations; high spaceports in GEO for rocket propelled vehicles to the Moon, Mars, asteroids and beyond; Stanford Torus type passively shielded cities there in GEO; and mass-spectrometer-like total recycling plants to convert our worst waste products back into pure elements for reuse in manufacturing, cheap transport of the trash up to GEO. for processing and return to the ground for new uses. And it would be all cleanly solar powered in GEO.
Are those things desirable changes for our future, and soon? Can we do it with an intelligent, very high integrity business system in all aspects, fully aimed at the best implementation for all mankind and our wonderful planetary ecosystem?
Does anybody at all want to go for this yet, besides me... or will it continue to be the big snub? Time and resources don’t wait; the sooner we get started, the sooner it can happen for us.