Horizontal Space Launcher Eyed

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 (UPI) — U.S. engineers say existing cutting-edge technologies, pushed forward, could provide the next space launch vehicle.

One proposal calls for a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets — supersonic ramjets — to be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled, a NASA release said.

The aircraft would fly up to 7,600 mph using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket’s second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit.

The aircraft would land on a runway by the launch site.

Such a system, with its advanced technologies, could benefit the nation’s high-tech industry by perfecting technologies that would make more efficient commuter rail systems, better batteries for cars and trucks and numerous other spinoffs, engineers say.

Nothing in the design, they say, calls for brand-new technology to be developed. However, the system counts on a number of existing technologies to be pushed forward.

“All of these are technology components that have already been developed or studied,” Stan Starr, branch chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Kennedy Space Center, said. “We’re just proposing to mature these technologies to a useful level, well past the level they’ve already been taken.”

NASA and universities have already done significant research in the field, including small-scale tracks at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and at Kennedy.

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