Derek Tidman was fascinated by magnetic rail-guns and launching heavy things really, really far. Rather than turn his attentions to pumpkins and cattle, however, Tidman invented combined a futuristic rail-gun with an ancient hunting weapon to create the Slingatron – a cheaper, cleaner way to put Earth-bound payloads into orbit.
Before we go any further, let’s do the obvious joke …
… I really enjoyed that!
Anyway, the Slingatron crew points to recent advances at companies like SpaceX that have reduced the payload cost of putting an object into space considerably compared to the NASA space-shuttle days. Even so, the cost of putting an object into orbit is still over $2000 per pound. That’s where the Slingatron comes in, with its ‘mechanical hypervelocity mass accelerator’ (aka “Slingatron”) which works like an ancient sling.
Instead of a leather thong being spun around a tiny Greek man’s head, however, the Slingatron uses an array of magnetically charged plates to mimic the effect of spinning an object around. Inside the Slingatron is a series of connected spiral tubes that gyrates on a series of flywheels spread along its length. A projectile is introduced into the tube and the centripetal force created by the gyrations pulls the projectile down the spirals. As the projectile slides through larger and larger turns of the spiral, the centripetal forces increase as the the frequency of gyrations increases to up to 60 cycles per second. By the time the projectile shoots out the muzzle in the rim of the Slingatron, it is traveling at several miles per second.
The biggest benefits, in addition to cost, would be the fact that humanity would be able to launch objects into space with minimal environmental impact, since the electrical energy required to arm and fire the Slingatron could be produced with far fewer carbon emissions than the large rockets of the last generation (which, according to some sources, travelled as far as 7 inches per gallon!). That is, of course, assuming it works … and that remains to be seen.