Maglev: Launching Rockets Using a Magnet
A second magnetic levitation track is up and running at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The experimental track was installed inside a high-bay facility at the Marshall Center this month. Marshall’s Advanced Space Transportation Program is developing magnetic levitation — or maglev — technologies that could give a space launch vehicle a "running start" to break free from Earth’s gravity. A maglev launch system would use magnetic fields to levitate and accelerate a vehicle along a track at speeds up to 600 mph. The vehicle would shift to rocket engines for launch to orbit. Maglev systems could dramatically reduce the cost of getting to space because they’re powered by electricity, an inexpensive energy source that stays on the ground — unlike rocket fuel that adds weight and cost to a launch vehicle.
The Foster-Miller experimental track accelerates a carrier to 57 mph at its peak — traveling 22 feet in 1/4 second, the equivalent of 10 times the acceleration of gravity. The tabletop track is 44 feet long, with 22 feet of powered acceleration and 22 feet of passive braking. A 10-pound carrier with permanent magnets on its sides swiftly glides by copper coils, producing a levitation force. The track uses a linear synchronous motor, which means the track is synchronized to turn the coils on just before the carrier comes in contact with them, and off once the carrier passes. Sensors are positioned on the side of the track to determine the carrier’s position so the appropriate drive coils can be energized. Engineers are conducting tests on the indoor track and a 50-foot outdoor maglev track installed at Marshall last September by NASA and industry partner PRT Advanced Maglev Systems Inc. of Park Forest, Ill. The testing is expected to help engineers better understand maglev vehicle dynamics, the interface between a carrier and its launch vehicle and how to separate the vehicle from the carrier for launch. Future work on large systems will be led by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Read On...
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