Image credit: Barbara David

China has reportedly embarked on a magnetic levitation (MagLev) system using an electromagnetic catapult to hurl a 50-ton space plane down a track at speeds up to Mach 1.6.

At the rail gun’s end, the space plane would use a propulsion system to reach orbit.

The South China Morning Post reports work on the idea is underway. Just how much momentum the research has behind it isn’t clear.

But if this sounds familiar…it is…and a wait-a-minute moment.

MagLifter concept. Image credit: NASA

Years ago, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center showcased a 50 feet (15 meters) MagLev test track.

NASA engineers working on the concept, however, couldn’t levitate, attract, and speed the necessary moolah their way to the idea – essentially derailing work.

Image credit: NASA

Mass drivers

Waaay back in 1974, work on “mass drivers” was undertaken by the late Gerard O’Neill and colleagues at Princeton University and also the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mass drivers were viewed then as the logical means for transporting lunar raw material to special spots in space, namely L-5.

Those mass drivers were electromagnetic launchers that could accelerate payloads in re-circulating buckets with superconducting magnet coils at a repetition rate of about ten per second.

Artwork shows Mass driver on Moon. Courtesy: Space Studies Institute (SSI)


Raw power

One application O’Neill proposed for mass drivers: toss baseball-sized chunks of ore mined from the surface of the Moon into space. Once in space, the ore could be used as raw material for building space colonies and solar power satellites.

Now decades later, enter the world of today’s bullet trains, high-velocity artillery shells, airplane catapults, hyped-up hypersonic vehicles, new materials, and superconductor thinking – time for a MagLev re-look for space?

Space technologists in China seemingly think so.

Go to: “China building giant hypersonic railgun for space launches” by Gabriel Honrada in Asian Times at:

China building giant hypersonic railgun for space launches

Also, for more information, go to these previous Inside Outer Space stories:



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