Running Rings Around Rockets

This idea has been kicking around for a while in the outer reaches of the military and space blogospheres, but now New Scientist has picked up the magnetic ‘launch ring’ projectile-accelerator story. The idea proposed is that a circular track of magnets can be used to gradually increase the velocity of a payload over a few hours, before switching to an outer track for it to launch into orbit. The USAF likes the sound of it, and is paying for a two year research project starting in a few weeks. Naturally their interest may be less than egalitarian, but if the technology works then the cost of getting material into orbit will start to drop dramatically – for everyone.