Flying to Space. Outer Space.

The majority of people think that a step rocket, like the Apollo rockets, or the Space Shuttle, is the only way to get things into orbit around the Earth.  But what is important in getting into orbit is going really, really fast, not straight up, but around the planet.  If there were no atmosphere, we would launch our rockets sideways.  But the air rips apart anything going too fast, that is until you go a few kilometers up.  Once you are about 15 kilometers above the ground, you can start going as fast as you want.

But accelerating really quickly is not necessary to reach orbit, just going faster and faster, because the faster you go, the faster the Earth curves away from you, causing your altitude to increase.  So we don’t need big, powerful rocket engines to get into space, just several fairly small ones.  By lifting our launchpad 15 kilometers into the sky, we make it possible to launch sideways.  The spaceship would be carried on the back of a big wing, and would fire its engines and fly off of the wing, heading towards the horizon as the wing dives away.  At no point in the process are super powerful engines burning exotic fuels needed, which makes the journey much safer.

Exploration off-planet means getting people into space.  The first 100 kilometers are the most difficult part, because of the atmosphere.  Orbital velocities are measured in kilometers per second, so coming and going means major changes in velocity.  Making those changes in the atmosphere is challenging, but we can use it to our benefit.  Building a really large flying wing has never been of any interest before, because, when people wanted to put something on a plane, they wanted to send it somewhere.  So airplanes have become big tubes with wings that are usually swept back, to aid in going faster.

And everyone knows that aircraft take off from runways, which means that a big airplane must have some kind of landing gear, and a runway thick enough to support it.  Wrong!  An aircraft can be launched using a track, and a catapult.  That makes it possible to use ground-based energy sources to accelerate the airplane to take-off speed in a comparatively short distance, while at the same time supporting the airplane.  By combining different technologies, we can create a launch system that can put people in orbit safely, reliably, and in numbers greater than 3 or 4 at a time.


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