On Wednesday, Deepak Gupta — who goes by PatentYogi on YouTube — posted a video of a maglev rocket launcher.
Theoretically, this machine would use magnets to launch a rocket out of Earth’s orbit, without chemical propellant.
Inventor James Powell filed the patent application for this design, which functions on the same principle as Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, in April of 2016, but Gupta publicly got behind the design this week.
Powell, along with his colleague Gordon Danby, received the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 2000 for inventing and patenting a superconductive magnetic levitation train. Their invention inspired transit projects such as the Tokyo to Osaka maglev train, which utilizes electromagnets to float above the track and has reached speeds of over 600 kilometers per hour.
This latest project involves angling a maglev track towards the sky and accelerating a reusable capsule to Earth’s escape velocity. Since rocket fuel for take-off and reentry takes up a huge amount of space and weight in current spacecrafts, using a non-chemical propellant for liftoff would represent a huge advantage, increasing the amount of fuel that could be used for actual transit, and therefore the potential range of spacecrafts. And while such a large structure as Powell proposes would require significant initial investment, the lack of fuel and fuel tanks would lower the cost of each launch. Launches would also be safer without the risk of explosions during fueling.
For those of you playing along at home, though, you may have noticed a hole in this plan.
The fastest maglev train has gone about 600 kilometers per hour, but the velocity required to escape Earth’s gravitational pull is about 11.2 kilometers per second. That translates to over 40,000 kilometers per hour. To achieve this higher velocity, Powell proposes sending the capsule through a vacuum tube, much like Musk’s Hyperloop. By lowering the drag caused by air resistance, maglev trains can travel much faster. It’s not clear whether this would give the maglev rocket launcher the velocity it needs, though, especially since Powell writes in the patent application that scaling down maglev systems from train size can be difficult. After all, a train is much larger than, say, a satellite, and smaller rails means less powerful conduction.
For the time being, this is a really cool concept, but it’s not clear whether it will make its way off the drawing board. Gupta seems keen on catching Elon Musk’s attention, though.