Site icon Wonderful Engineering

This Hypersonic Space Cannon Promises To Launch Rockets From Ground To Orbit In Just 10 Minutes

Green Launch COO and Chief Science Officer Dr. John W. Hunter directed the Super High Altitude Research Project (SHARP) program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory some 30 years ago, and in the process led the development of the world’s largest and most powerful “hydrogen impulse launcher.”

This is effectively a long tube, filled with hydrogen, helium, and oxygen mixed in, and a projectile in front of it.

 Green Launch Business Development Director Eric Robinson told New Atlas that this approach scales up far better than a spinning accelerator like the SpinLaunch system.

“The record for a projectile launched with hydrogen propellant is 11.2 km/sec (Mach 32.7),” he tells us in an email. “We plan to limit our launch velocity to 6 km/sec (Mach 17.5) to extend reusability and prevent wear on the barrel.”

Green Launch estimates the acceleration forces involved will peak at around 30,000 G. it is being said that the cost will not be too much, maybe a tenth of what it costs to put things on a rocket.

The hydrogen cannon can be fired every 60-90 minutes, sending its hypersonic projectile skyward where it’ll “penetrate the atmosphere within a minute and shed its aeroshell.” Low earth orbits between 300-1,000 km (186-621 miles) can be achieved in under two hours, and some much quicker. “Your satellites and supplies can be in orbit in 10 minutes,” says Robinson.

The company has built a 54-ft (16.5-m) proof of concept launch tube, and just before Christmas last year the team aimed it vertically upwards at Arizona’s Yuna Proving Grounds for its first vertical test shot, achieving a muzzle velocity “exceeding Mach 3,” and firing the projectile well into the stratosphere.

“Our current collaborators and customers include UCSD and Harvard on an NSF-sponsored project,” says Robinson. “We will be sampling the mesosphere between 30 km and 100 km to determine the isotopic gas content. This has a great bearing on the Earth’s energy budget and provides physical data for climate scientists around the world. Green Launch is uniquely able to take biopsies of the Earth’s atmosphere at altitudes too high for balloons and too low for satellites. Sounding rockets are much more expensive as well as very polluting.”

“Based upon our recent success at the Yuma Proving Ground,” he continues, “we are entering a new development round for our suborbital then first orbital system.”