Mass Driver: an alternative launching system

Gerard K. O’Neill was an American physicist who strongly believed in the human settlement of outer space. He also imagined an innovative launching system named ‘mass driver’, also known as the “electromagnetic catapult”.

Technical description of a mass driver

Basically, a mass driver is a catapult tube using coils of wire powered by electricity. It produces magnetic fields to accelerate a bucket through an accelerator tube.  The method is very different to the conventional use of chemical rockets.The tube consists of several coils, the ‘drive coils’. The bucket also contains a coil named the ‘bucket coil’. The ‘bucket coil’ is accelerated by the ‘drive coils’ while passing through, due to the electromagnetism. The drive coil only turns on when the bucket coil is inside.

Click to see the GIF

Mass Driver

Mass Driver (GIF)

So what?

This launching system has advantages and disadvantages.

Regrettably, this launching system doesn’t allow mid-course correction. The launch window must be as accurate as possible.

As long as the spacecraft uses ‘distant forces’ and doesn’t use chemical explosions for the propulsion, the launching system and the spacecraft are reusable. This is more financially favorable in the case of regular and long term use compared to single use systems.

At the moment, it is still very difficult to have this kind of system on Earth because of the high gravity and dense atmosphere. Nevertheless, the Moon looks to be very appropriate for mass drivers. Indeed, it would also preserve the lunar environment by reducing the creation of an unwanted atmosphere due to rocket fuel propellant.

The launch track would be very long and could reach the target velocity relatively smoothly, preserving passengers from harmful acceleration.

The space industrialization

The expansion of the mass driver was very popular during the 70s due to the push from Gerard K. O’Neill, Freeman Dyson, and Henry H.Kolm. Today this technology is mainly studied for military purposes.

The mass driver could be used as daily transport system from the Moon to lunar orbit for industry purposes. This would involve a massive industrialization of the Moon and- large scale infrastructure.

Moon industrialization & Mass driver. Credits: Pat Rawlings/Lunar Planetary Institute

Moon industrialization & Mass driver. Credits: Pat Rawlings/Lunar Planetary Institute

Most of the research has been performed so far has been conducted by the Space Studies Institute (SSI).

Further information are proposed on the PERMANENT website.

Because we are all Born For Space!