Ever wondered why don’t we simply fire objects into space using a giant cannon?
There have been proponents of the theory that holds that we could launch objects into space by firing them using what is called a Space gun. According to them, loading a spacecraft into the barrel of a giant gun aimed upward could launch the satellite into space without the huge payload of fuel required with launching a rocket.
The concept was first presented by Sir Isaac Newton in his book A Treatise of the System of the World. In his book, Newton laid out an experiment where a canon is positioned on the top of a very high mountain and used to fire an object. He hypothesizes that without the strong pull of gravity at such high altitudes, the object would just follow a straight path away from the earth in the direction it was fired in.
Newton’s model, however, was only theoretical and therefore, practical considerations needed to be incorporated to make the model reliable.
Interestingly, a number of attempts were made to launch satellites/spacecraft into space based on this model, as the video above explains. The was a US/Canadian collaboration, HARP (high altitude research project) project in the 1960s was the first attempt to test what it took to send a ballistic to outer space followed by another attempt, known as the SHARP project.
Both attempts failed largely due to one reason: the objects fired did not maintain enough velocity to reach orbit. Moreover, another issue faced was that unlike a rocket which gains speed gradually, as it reaches the less dense parts of the earth’s atmosphere thereby reducing friction with the atmosphere and limiting heat generated, a cannon fires the projectile at its full speed from the beginning of the launch. This results in a lot of heat generation within the denser parts of earth’s atmosphere, thus damaging the projectile.
Thus, there are numerous reasons why this method has not worked and is not in use today.