O'Neill was right in arguing (in The High Frontier) that
economies-of-scale would make living in space feasible for millions of human beings, long before we can terraform other planets for that purpose. He proposed hollow cylinders, a mile or more long to realize those economies-of-scale, rotating around their axis so centrifugal force would supply one "gee" around the surface of each internal world (as well as for stability a la gyroscope).|
Unaccountably, he overlooked a much greater economy-of-scale by not
realizing that not all decks have to be at one "gee" gravity. You can have many decks, concentric, at other "gee" levels for industrial, recreational, storage, and agricultural purposes and low-gee hospitals and research labs (the lower gravity stress should enable the elderly, and ill people, to live comfortably longer by twenty to thirty good years).
This further enormous economy-of-scale should make living in space affordable for millions of people within relatively few years, and represents life insurance for our entire human species if anything should happen to our one fragile little planet.
("Note: the low "gee" acceleration provided by the Wenger Space Launch
System, herein proposed, should enable the ill and elderly to travel comfortably to low-gee environments, hospitals and habitats.)
All components existonly engineering needed
Problems for this proposed system appear to be well within the
abilities of present technology to accomplish, all with off-the-shelf materials and techniques.
"Exactly which configuration is the stablest?" is an engineering question, as is the
question of best method of coupling the launch vehicle to the track without friction
and/or with the most efficient transfer of energy to momentum. Whether to make all
elements of the track mildly flexible, to accommodate deformations rendered by storm or
launch, or whether it should be a succession of short rigid lengths locked into place in
the configuration and arranged to break loose without damage when need be and then
automatically and quickly slipped back into place....All these are mere engineering
So also is the question of initial erection of the structurewhether by
add-on-at-the-end, pay-out kind of arrangement, or laying linked components out along the
ground under where the track will go, then lifting the whole toward final configuration by
filling and release of the requisite tethered balloons, possibly in successive stages.
Premise: Every configuration, even an enemy, represents a utilizable
resource if one is bright enough to figure out how to make use of it. Except for braking
purposes, for generations the students of rocketry and the space sciences have considered
the atmosphere to be anything from a minor nuisance to a major enemy or handicap. Once we
begin to think of using the atmosphere as a structure, though, it is evident that Earth's
atmosphere is actually a not-inconsiderable ally!
Safety and health factors
We have already cited several safety factors: not having to ride an enormously explosive bomb; and freedom from chemically affecting the ozone layer. Nevertheless, there are some trade-offs in safety in that the proposed space-launch system presents another set of design problems, different from those now accommodated as part of the ongoing systems. Moreover, the safety inherent in any system has to reside in the quality of its management. Nevertheless, in net the proposed space-launch system represents substantial safety gains in two additional regards:
1. Tremendously simpler vehicles can be placed into space. Though
this advantage will be partially offset by the huge increase in volume of space traffic
and launchings resulting from this system, such a grand simplification should nonetheless
mean a substantial absolute saving in safety, not only a dramatic improvement in safety
"per passenger mile."
We cannot emphasize enough the safety savings of astronauts' no
longer having to ride a half-million-pound bomb through the hazardous period of launch.
The vehicle would still have to carry along enough fuel for maneuver and for further
mission once it had kicked off the end of the track and achieved orbital velocity in
space. A smaller fuel load requirement for these activities, however, smaller by so very
much, should make escape in an emergency much more feasible. Moreover:
2. Since there is no way for vehicles to go astray near populated
areas, when launched along the proposed system, there is no longer need to include
destruct ordinance and that entire system for blowing up errant launch vehicles. Even if
that system has not yet in itself been the source of accidents, it certainly presents that
potential both directly and as part of the overall complexity with which launch teams
presently have to cope.
The increased traffic resulting from the proposed space-launch system will make it quite feasible to launch main fuel tanks entirely separately from the manned missions, should it be determined that doing so with whatever it takes to rendezvous in orbit is safer than launching both together.
As capitalization cost becomes divided ever more thinly among more payloads, the cost of going into space should come within the unassisted reach of many ordinary citizens (and industrial or business activities), and even affords the prospect of maintaining in orbit a low-spin, low-g
health research and medical treatment facility, especially as regards geriatrics and cardiovascular matters.
A health safety factor can also be considered here. The long acceleration track and thus low g-forces required for launches, and the sheer economy of this proposed high-volume-use space launch system, should immediately make it not only feasible but very appropriate to "put civilians in space."
One possible shortcoming of the system
However valuable the system may be in civilian and economic and
scientific terms, the proposed system does not appear to be useful for most military purposes. If some other nation has sufficient incentive to destroy the system, it is sufficiently exposed and vulnerable that a sustained effort could probably penetrate most
defenses arranged for it. Conventional defenses and security should suffice against lesser
threats, and redundancy of systems past the first one should "lower profiles" in
a political sense.
Ramifications of the invention
This invention was released into public domain on June 26, 1997. We strongly recommend that such patentable devices, procedures and engineering as may emerge in course of developing this invention also be given freely or on very generous terms to interests around the world, further
effectively removing this profoundly consequential and beneficial invention from the arena
of geostrategic power play and further lowering political profiles.
Here are some alternatives to balloon-supported catapults which use similar principles to conserve or avoid the expending of reaction mass, and applications for future development.
By means of laser beams intense enough to create a strongly ionized track slanting upward through the atmosphere, one might power and accelerate the launch vehicle without some or all of the supporting hardware.
Many such features are ostensibly within the range of contemporary technology but presently represent too great an economic and experiential quantum-jump to be very likely of undertaking, whatever the prospective returns. These would become realizable and profitable once the basic system is in being.
With so much launch capacity brought online by the present proposed atmosphere-supported track system, a modified version of an entire such track system could be placed into space supported not atmospherically but orbitally. Such a system could reconfigure after each launch by means of secondary tethers,
cable-tighteners, laser sighters and computers, and/or by radio and by small jets or even
retrieval by equipment and personnel.
Another, even more interesting version is one in whichif the mechanics and logistics can be adequately addressedcomponents of the system are so placed in orbit that their tendency to fall is the supplier of power for launchings within the total system.
The extensive new launch capacity brought online by means of the proposed Space-Launch System means the capacity to freight materials into orbit, to construct an inertia-supported, solar or nuclear-powered or otherwise powered catapult based in space, for still more ambitious activities up to and including mining of the asteroid belt, terraforming of Mars, construction of large-scale habitats, and/or
Atmosphere-supported structures rather than isolated balloons or air vehicles could serve as a basis for launching objects into the upper atmosphere, into ballistic transport trajectory to other continents or into near-Earth space and orbit.
And they could serve as a basis for atmosphere-supported enterprises ranging from
research pods and stations, forest fire watch stations, manned or habitable service pods,
regional telecommunications provisions, and tourist traps, to high-borne cities.
- Note that this air-structure catapult track system can provide a
continuity and gradation of experience, location, and technical and economic activity,
toward many airborne features including Fulleresque airborne cities and factories and
farms, and for "swelter shelters" to partially screen torrid habitats on the
ground, and reflectors to warm frigid ground regions.
- Although not lightly done (double-pun intended) because so many climatological variables are as yet unknown, such tracks can provide the basis for countering undesired specific effects, possibly even in the long run undesired general effects, of global warming.
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