Startram is a proposed launch system developed by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory that would use magnetically levitated trains to move humans and cargo into space. While the idea is not totally surprising, the fact that we currently possess the technology to complete the space train—and that it would be less expensive than launching stuff into orbit using rockets—is amazing.
Magnetic levitation trains experience no friction, so they're theoretically capable of far exceeding their current 350 mph speed. The system would require a 1000-mile vacuum tunnel to accelerate the trains to the 20,000 mph necessary for achieving orbit. Most of the tunnel would run at sea level, with the exit point approximately 12 miles above the earth.
How to suspend a 12-mile-high tunnel, you ask? Since the tunnel will already possess a superconducting cable and rings, the researchers propose actually magnetically levitating the tunnel itself. Using a superconducting cable on the ground carrying 200 million amperes, and a superconducting cable in the launch tub carrying 20 million amperes, there ought to be more than enough levitating force to keep the system aloft.
The researchers estimate the project would require 20 years and $60 billion to complete. The cost, however, makes sense when you consider that it would likely cost $50 per kilogram to launch cargo into space using Startram. This is well below the current cost of $10,000 per kilogram using rockets.
However, Startram wouldn't be solely devoted to conveying cargo from earth's surface. It would be able to shuttle humans into space as well. As farfetched as it might seem, perhaps we're not far away from hopping a high-speed train into space.
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