Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

New NASA Track Races Toward Cheaper Trips To Space

Date:
October 8, 1999
Source:
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Summary:
Speedy sports cars have met their match: A new magnetic levitation – or maglev – track at the Marshall Center accelerates a model spacecraft from zero to 60 mph in less than one-half second.

Sports cars that speed from zero to 60 mph in four-and-a-half seconds have met their match: A new high-technology track at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., accelerates a model spacecraft from zero to 60 in less than a half-second -- with the flip of an electric switch. This magnetic levitation -- or maglev -- track will demonstrate technologies that could dramatically reduce the cost of getting to space. The Marshall Center and industry partner PRT Advanced Maglev Systems Inc. of Park Forest, Ill., have just completed installation of a 50-foot track at Marshall.

Related Articles


A maglev system to launch spacecraft into orbit would use magnetic fields to levitate and accelerate a vehicle along a track at very high rates of speed. Similar to high-speed trains and roller coasters that use high-strength magnets to lift and propel a vehicle a couple of inches above a guideway, a maglev launch-assist system would electromagnetically drive a space vehicle along a track. The magnetically levitated spacecraft would be accelerated at speeds up to 600 mph, and then shift to rocket engines for launch to orbit.

"The weight of propellant is a major culprit in the high cost of conventional rocket launches. But because maglev uses electricity -- an off-board energy source -- for launch assist," said Sherry Buschmann, manager of the Marshall Center's launch technologies, "the weight of the vehicle at liftoff is about 20 percent less than a typical rocket, resulting in tremendous savings in the cost of getting to space.

"Electricity is both inexpensive and environmentally safe. Each launch using a full-scale maglev track would consume only about $75 worth of electricity in today's market," said Buschmann.

The new, experimental track at Marshall is an advanced linear induction motor. Induction motors are common in fans, power drills and sewing machines, but instead of spinning in a circular motion to turn a shaft or gears, a linear induction motor produces thrust in a straight line. It's basically a rotary motor split in half and rolled out flat.

When the coils of the linear induction motor are energized by alternating current, a magnetic field is created, providing thrust that pushes an aluminum carrier along the maglev track. A horseshoe-shaped carrier containing a 5-foot, 30-pound spacecraft model is levitated about one-half inch above the track as it accelerates at six times the force of gravity.

The track -- 50 feet long, about 2 feet wide and about 1.5 feet high -- is mounted on concrete pedestals. It consists of 10 identical, 5-foot-long segments that weigh about 500 pounds each. Most of the weight is iron used in the motor. The track is shrouded with nonmagnetic stainless steel.

Magnetic levitation of the carrier and its vehicle on the track requires about 200 kilovolt amps of electricity -- the equivalent of turning on 2,000 100-watt light bulbs at one time.

Experiments to validate the concept have been conducted successfully on a 20-foot electromagnetic track at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. Through demonstrations on Marshall Center's track, NASA seeks to learn more about aerodynamics, magnetic fields and energy storage devices associated with maglev.

"This new track will help to determine if maglev technologies offer a realistic alternative for reducing the cost of access to space, to help open the door to commercialization and exploration of space," said Buschmann.

A demonstration track measuring 400 feet is planned at Marshall within the next year. "We've known that linear induction motors can produce thrust," said Bill Jacobs, maglev lead engineer at Marshall. "Now, with larger-scale experiments, we want to demonstrate that control can be maintained at high speeds along the maglev track. To limit energy use, we are evaluating methods for distributing power to small sections of the track at a time."

In addition to industry partner PRT, NASA is joining with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of San Francisco to develop maglev technologies. The Livermore team is building a track that uses permanent magnets and a linear motor that runs without superconductors or complex feedback circuits.

Maglev is one of many technologies being developed by the Marshall Center's Advanced Space Transportation Program to reduce the cost of getting to space from today's $10,000 per pound to only hundreds of dollars per pound.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "New NASA Track Races Toward Cheaper Trips To Space." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 October 1999. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991007152354.htm>.
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. (1999, October 8). New NASA Track Races Toward Cheaper Trips To Space. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 29, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991007152354.htm
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. "New NASA Track Races Toward Cheaper Trips To Space." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991007152354.htm (accessed January 29, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Eleven years ago NASA&apos;s Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then it has traveled 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers), further than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has ever driven. Credit to &apos;NASA&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) NASA&apos;s New Horizons probe is en route to snap a picture of Pluto this summer, but making sure it doesn&apos;t miss its one chance to do so starts now. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins