Saharan propulsion – ASPS Mass driver

A colossal scf-fi mass driver on distant planet

Dear readers,

while we wait for the unveiling of ASPS Little Cart I’d like to share with you the translation of this Laureti’s article about an electromagnetic launch system called Saharan propulsion that could help mankind not only to abandon rocketry once and for all but also and especially to reach Moon and Mars (and beyond!) in the eventuality that the physics of PNN – the new law of inertia derived from the violation of the Third law of dynamics – wouldn’t allow a direct take off from Earth. The name comes from the power source of the whole system: a huge solar panels farm in the Sahara desert.

The idea is ASPS own vision of a Mass driver.

Here’s the complete translation of the article, please enjoy the reading!


What I’m going to say is obviously in general terms, as I haven’t got  any engineering skills to execute and configure this next project in detail. The project in my opinion has feasible costs, although considerable.

The considerable costs are justified by the prospect of significant advantages, that is potentially autonomous extraterrestrial colonies.

But the considerable costs lead, in my opinion, to solutions not even remotely approachable by today’s rocketry.  It’s a turning point that originates from experimental facts, at this point historical, of rocket astronautics and its unavoidable wastes and failures besides its current stall and inability to set permanent outposts on Moon and Mars.

What I say has a specific objective: colonies on the Moon and Mars, that is, to bring there industries and humans to settle permanent activities WITH THE FINAL OBJECTIVE OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY and therefore the whole requires a titanic effort that nowadays rocketry is not able to sustain in terms of costs, time and quantity of materials that space stations in Earth, lunar or Martian orbit will have to handle. Space stations that will need to be much more populated, stocked and powerful than the ISS.
If we want to colonize the Moon and then Mars we can not think of doing it with toy trumpet systems [rockets E.N] departing from Earth, whose specific impulse on average is around 360 seconds.
Just to give an example if we use a Saturn V rocket to depart from Earth surface and reach the Moon the actual mass that leaves Earth orbit is equal to about 2% (about 61 tons) of the original mass on the launch pad (2970 tons)!
The payload on the Moon was even lower than the total mass on the launch pad: not even 7 tons of the 2970 at the start, or about 0.235% of the total!
It is obvious that with these numbers you can’t afford an outpost on the Moon if you do not RADICALLY change the launch procedure to greatly increase the amount of useful mass to bring to destination, b
eing the Earth, as Arcibald [user from Nasa spaceflight forum E.N] writes, “.. a massive rocky planet at the bottom of a deep gravity well, with a thick atmosphere on top of that.”

Why this hypothesis in relation to PNN:

If the violation of the III principle of dynamics doesn’t involve a law of inertia that allows you to leave Earth with a spaceship then you have to do it the same way of rocketry (using the Newton’s third) and ONLY AFTER you exploit the violation of III for long distances towards… I don’t know …  the Moon and Mars (for now). The experimental definition of PNN law of inertia is being tested for several years (only with the means and timing that ASPS can afford)… more details in To Mars and back- hypothesis for a PNN spacecraft.

Broad lines of the project:

the basis of the project is to insert payloads into LEO (at least) one after another and with very low costs through the launch into high stratosphere of a payload at a speed of at least 8 Km/s without the aid of rockets, that is having the payload lined up like a train  inside a long launch tube that, like a cannon, shoots the payload into space after a long travel (about 320 Km) with an acceleration a bit higher than 10g to reach the above mentioned speed. Today this speed is theoretically possible by using an electromagnetic rail (super-enhanced and similar to those used for high speed trains) that runs inside a 320 Km long (hypothesis!) pickup tube that is almost vacuum both in the horizontal section and in the tilted section. In the last few years, rail propulsion systems in a rarefied environment have been experimenting with magnets that eliminate frictions.

Concept of a train inside a vacuum tube

There’s already who, before me, has thought about this kind of solutions  (Star Tram) even if with a bit different and less gigantic structures.

Star Tram concept

I presume (I haven’t read the patent) that the differences between the projects lie in removing the hindrance of the cables, rising height through aerostatic systems like balloons and A DIFFERENT KIND OF blimps, lengthening the launch rail and above all in the alignment of the whole launch system to avoid payload derailments in the final section of the path, where it has to travel at about 8 Km/s along the magnetic rail. Even higher final speeds are possible but everything depends on the brutal acceleration to which the load is subjected along the electromagnetic rail: just over 10 g for about 80 seconds.
Let’s not forget that with rocket propulsion, at the moment, something more than 92% of the mass of a rocket (the upper limit depends on which orbit you want to reach) is lost to gain the low orbit!

Figure 1: Cloud City and cross section of the main launch tube structures

Now since we have been talking for some time about sending astronauts to Moon and Mars we must not forget the past, that the Shuttle project was not only a failure but it also eliminated as many as 14 astronauts.
In order to prevent this from happening again in missions to Moon and Mars it is necessary to clarify that these expeditions must also have backup propulsion systems  capable of saving astronauts if something goes wrong .
But this can only be done by bringing much more payload into Earth orbit. Otherwise it is better to give up or better to let the rocket only do what it can do: bring satellites into orbit and play with robots on Mars (unfortunately!).
The Saharan propulsion above all is needed to not kill astronauts, given that if those of Columbia had had rescue systems, SHOULD READ MORE USEFUL PAYLOAD IN ORBIT, perhaps they would have had a chance to save themselves.

Musk wants to carry 200 passengers per launch

in fact, the article says: “Under new plans released in the journal New Space, the billionaire said he hoped to build a ‘Mars Colonial Fleet’ of more than one thousand cargo ships which would depart ‘en masse’ could transport 200 passengers at a time, along with materials to build homes, industrial plants and shops”. A very high risk for the poor wretches who ventured into the colonization of the Moon and Mars with the failed toy trumpet astronautics that is unable to do at capacity what one would like it did.

Before giving some more details it is good to establish what the primary objective must be: to shoot a payload in the stratosphere at a speed of about 8 km/s to bring it in low orbit first and then to make it rise progressively at higher altitudes through other propulsion systems.

Figure 2: Side view of the whole system

The launch tube must be:

1) almost vacuum with its lateral diameter that necessarily increases as the  height increases from the ground. The orbital payload is in practice a vacuum electromagnetic rail train

2) about 80 km long in the inclined part, perhaps with a double structure as shown in fig 1, with larger intermediate stations placed at 16 km one from the other (example in Figure 2) to maintain the buoyancy and the attitude like Cloud City (represented in Figure 1 by the historical polar airship Italy). Naturally, the cloud cities can be arranged differently and in even greater number depending on the functionality and length of the launch tube, which in practice in the inclined part is a huge and very long skyscraper that sustains itself in the atmosphere for the principle of Archimedes. Its length depends on the speed at which you want to insert the payload into orbit and on the related ABLATIVE shield that is necessary if the friction with the atmosphere is still high despite the rarefaction of the air.
For example, at 30 km altitude air density is 1.2% of 1 atm and if the cannon is tilted 45 degrees it could be about 42 km long instead of 80 km in upward development. Remaining in the perspective of a length equal to 80 km and an inclination of 30 degrees the acceleration rail should be lengthened on the ground by a certain number of km: 240 in horizontal to be exact  (much longer than in the picture!) to give the payload a suitable time to reach the required speed at the exit of the rail in the stratosphere (the stratosphere develops from 15 to 50 km in height) and with an acceleration produced by the electromagnetic masses which is substantially brutal: on average very close to 10 g!
Furthermore in a 320 Km long launch tube, almost vacuum,  a payload with an average acceleration around 10 g would travel that length in about 80 sec with a speed of about 8 km/s at the shutter aperture in the high stratosphere. 
Tube that in practice hovers in the air like a very long airship and that progressively rises from the ground like a long snake in a straight line (or other a-la Musk’s specifications like BFR) with an angle of 30 degrees up to an altitude (fig.2) of about 40 km, that is in an area of  Earth’s atmosphere where the pressure is less than that on Mars (about 7/1000 of 1 atm). Note that balloons have been brought to over 50 km altitude.

3) The tube must be stabilized in wind through one (or more) upper “backbone” as in fig.1 and fig.2 and through the construction where needed of lifting stations, that can be also called “Cloud City,” which can house controls, stabilizers (electric turbines), security systems, pressure control and management of the lifting stations and the tube etc.. In fig.1 the backbone is drawn above the launch tube but it can also be placed below for a matter of stability (density I presume) and thus lateral dimensions.

4) In Figure 1 I represented the cloud cities by using the picture of the polar airship “Italia” as I don’t know what shape they must have and above all if they’re actually required since the tubular structures of the launch conduit could maintain the attitude by themselves through suitable lateral engines and even lift themselves on their own always for the principle of Archimedes. In addition, as the height increase the  “cloud cities” should inevitably change shape becoming a simple balloon of increasing volume, perhaps remote controlled.

5) The structure and the energy type required by the system is of electric nature, both for inserting payloads into orbit and for the sustenance and maneuvering of the launch structure. The electric energy is generated through solar panels arrays in the Sahara desert (the use of other more irradiated deserts is possible) as it’s expected that Sahara can supply electric energy to half of the world at least (and by doing that one would also in part industrialize Africa)

6) If the tube has at its end a pressure of 7/1000 atm (at about 40Km altitude) OR EVEN LESS, it will open like a shutter to let the mass to be put into orbit pass at 8 Km/s; this can be made at unceasing pace through the use of solar energy without polluting the terrestrial atmosphere with the exhaust gas of rockets. The mass to be put into orbit is to be intended obviously as everything that is needed to build new and more powerful space stations around Earth as well as around the Moon and Mars, plus all the MASSIVE PAYLOAD needed to land on Moon and Mars and build permanent outposts with adequate supplies and survival equipment in case of accidents.

7) The launch tube can be also used to put into low orbit a payload and then to slowly increase its height through PNN or rocket thrust. The 80Km are approximate as well as the electromagnetic launch tube slope and its extension on the ground. Each nation on Earth can build a section according to its financial resources. The escape velocity at the end of the tube (determined on the circular plane by an Earth parallel) can be changed and lowered and the mass to be put into orbit can also exploit, after it leaves the shutter, a rocket system stage that allows it to reach the final speed and adds maneuvering capability.. always in the perspective to maximize the payload to put cheaply into orbit.

Preparation and launch:

I presume where it’s simpler, that is an uninhabited place that runs almost flat for 320Km. The whole can be prepared through the construction of a straight road and of a centralized command structure for the altitude and alignment control of the single parts that form the 80 Km tilted section. This tilted part of the launch tube will make Musk’s BFR look like a gnat.
If we’d like to make an easy joke the system would rise in the atmosphere like a progressive erection as the inner launch tube is gradually decompressed and a suitable light gas is pumped inside the outer shell that has to tilt. Moreover since the long structure has to endure different atmospheric pressures the outer tube section will progressively increase with increasing height. Besides, while the inner launch tube will have to run without interruptions for about 80 Km in the atmosphere the outer tube will have to be divided in n sections (400?) according to the internal pressure that each section must have in relation with its altitude. A complex technical problem but surely not impossible for modern technology. It is conceivable, as already said, that the launch tube can be shorter than 80 Km in the tilted part and with a greater extension on ground before the elevation in the stratosphere. It is also conceivable that the acceleration of the payload can vary along the different segments of the tube. In the final thrust phase it’s expected a certain stiffening of the rail structure with the aim of an adequate decrease of derailment risks.

The opening at the end of the launch tube will open like a camera shutter to let the payload pass, making the stiffened snake resemble an artillery piece with a long barrel (or another more notorious and jollier popular similitude)

Due to air compressibility under its own weight the atmospheric pressure decrease at sea level is not linear like in liquids, but it decrease exponentially (in a first approximation). Various factors like atmospheric conditions and latitude affect its value; NASA has filled out the mean values in all around the world. The following table provides approximate pressure value, in the percentage of 1 atmosphere, according to altitude.

Figure 3 – Variation of the atmospheric pressure in relation to height

The stratosphere begins at an height of about 15Km and ends at 50Km; balloons usually remain in this zone: scientific experiments on balloons can reach an altitude of 40Km, while the world record is 53 Km. Beyond the stratosphere there is the mesosphere, starting from 50 Km, so we can state that the balloon that set the record has reached mesosphere.

As I said, the 30 degrees tilted launch ramp should be about 80 Km long with a final distance from the ground equal to 40Km of altitude and an escape velocity at the shutter a little higher than ISS (the space station speed is 7,6 Km/s). The accelerations that a human body can stand also depend on the launch tube length and if not bearable they should be enough to allow the insertion into orbit of loads only, eventually retrievable once in orbit.

As I said, about energy supply there’s the need to convert into electric energy the Saharan irradiation.
With intermediate control posts for the launch tube structure similar to those in sci-fi novels like Cloud City or maybe many cloud cities halfway as long as there is air to breathe before stratosphere and mesosphere.

Note about the main difficulties that in my opinion the Saharan Propulsion implies:

– Alignment of the 400 substructures of airships or balloons (shell in fig.1) in atmospheric turbulence. That is, to let the tube sway inside certain limits and to align the 400 lifting “balloons” only during the launch phase.

– To conveniently apply Archimedes principle up to 40 Km height by adapting the support structure as needed for a good attitude of the electromagnetic rail.

– Progressive acceleration (at least 10g if one doesn’t want to further expand the horizontal section on the ground) and speeding up of the payload (various tons of weight) on the electromagnetic rail compared to the actual values.

Note on costs distribution and the possibility to create Cloud City astronautics:

By considering that the number of nations recognized by UNO is 196 and that the number of sections in which to divide the tube is hypothesizable to 400, and that many Earth countries could build far more than 2 or 3 200 meters long blimps all the project looks feasible even in the costs. The only variable is the will (also engineering speaking) to assemble and bring to convergence what according to the physical laws and the principle of Archimedes is feasible, even if it has never been done.


The same launch procedure could be used to reach orbit altitude both from Moon (no atmosphere) and Mars (very rarefied). For the landings on any planet one could instead use, as I’ll better illustrate next time, an adaptation of PNN since the approach to Earth’s surface as well as those of the Moon and Mars can be done by slowly reducing the approach speed. In practice the only way in which rocketry would survive is as final stage at the exit of the electromagnetic launch tube shutter if we start from the Earth’s surface… always assuming that the PNN inertia law can not radically solve the problem foundations.

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