Alex Beyman
Oct 25, 2018 · 3 min read

When you think about futuristic alternatives to rockets, odds are good you think of space elevators. However, space elevators have some show stopping problems.

Mostly, it’s our inability (at present) to manufacture sufficiently large, contiguous sheets of carbon that are flawless down to the atomic scale to create a strong enough tether.

However, if we don’t build the tether straight up and down, then the materials don’t have to be so strong. If we make it hollow and exploit vactrain principles (similar to hyperloop) then we can accelerate a maglev train type vehicle inside to escape velocity.

Enter: the Launch Loop. Also known as the god damn SPACE TRAIN (pyrotechnics go off, metal solo plays).

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Perhaps that sounds absurd and fantastical, but it’s an accurate descriptor. The launch loop is essentially a maglev vactrain, a more advanced form of hyperloop. Most of it just stays in orbit via centrifugal force.

Now, this requires building the track in orbit and lowering one end carefully to Earth, but the same would be required to establish the tether for a space elevator. The two technologies, being very similar, have similar problems.

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If it sounds like a terrifyingly precarious operation, it absolutely would be. But crucially, it’s within our capabilities with modern day materials and technologies. The astronomically high price is the only meaningful barrier to building such a marvel.

Once constructed, it would represent a permanent, drastic reduction in the cost per pound to reach low Earth orbit. As they say, once you’re in orbit, you’re halfway to anywhere, simply because most of any spacecraft’s energy is wasted climbing out of Earth’s gravity well.

With that burdensome obstacle forever overcome, humanity would have cheap and easy access to space. There would almost no longer be a financial case for building large spacecraft or space stations from asteroid ore simply because of how cheaply and easily metals could be sent from Earth.

That depends enormously on how distant from Earth a proposed project would be constructed, but for projects in LEO, the launch loop would present a better value proposition than building from space resources due to the fuel cost of delivering them to Earth orbit from the asteroid belt.

That should give some sense of just what a remarkable, transformative difference a launch loop would make to the economic dimension of human space exploration. Best of all, it’s technologically achievable right now. We need only the political will, and to convince politicians that an idea as absurd on the face of it as a launch loop can really be built.


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Alex Beyman

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where the future is written

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