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We already have the technology to send trains into space, at a fraction of the cost of rockets

io9

Image by Startram

This is Startram, a proposed launch system that would use magnetic levitation trains, a 1000-mile tunnel, and a superconducting cable to reach low Earth orbit. Amazingly, we already have the technology to do it…at far less than the cost of rockets.

Gizmag has a great overview of how Startram would work, but the basic idea is simple enough. Because maglev trains hover above their tracks and thus don’t have to worry about friction, they are theoretically capable of going far beyond their current mark of about 350 miles per hour to reach the 20,000 miles per hour needed for orbital velocities. Of course, to safely accelerate humans to those speeds, you’d need a lot of track, not to mention a way to keep a hypersonic train from being ripped to shreds by the air around it. According to its engineers, a vacuum tube that’s 1,000 miles long and simulates the lower air pressure of the mesosphere should do the trick.

While most of the tube would be at sea level, the exit point would need to be about 12 miles high. The same magnetic levitation technology used in the trains could also be used to suspend the tunnel that high in the air, as Gizmag explains:

If we arrange that there is a superconducting cable on the ground carrying 200 million amperes, and a superconducting cable in the launch tube carrying 20 million amperes, at an altitude of 20 km there will be a levitating force of about 4 tons per meter of cable length – more than enough to levitate the launch tube. The vacuum tube would be held down against excess levitation force by high strength tethers. Dyneema (UHMWPE) is more than strong enough for this purpose. Redundant design would make a failure of the levitation system most unlikely.

Read more: io9

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