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     Mankind needs an inexpensive method of launching spacecraft.  For the past 48 years, the basic  method has been multi-stage expendable rockets.  There has always been great interest in a single-stage Reusable Launched Vehicle (RLV), to allow ordinary people to visit outer space for the same cost as a trip to Europe.  In fact, today’s “Space Shuttle” was envisioned as a single-stage RLV, but that proved impractical so two semi-reusable rocket boosters and massive disposable fuel tank are needed, which pushes the total cost for each mission over $500 million.  As a result, hopes for 100 shuttle launches a year have dwindled to four a year.  NASA canceled a more recent attempt at a single-stage RLV, the X-33/Venturestar, when problems proved insurmountable. 

     The solution is a "Sky Ramp" assisted-launch to propel an RLV on a sled to supersonic speeds up a long inclined track before the RLV fires its engines.  This can be done with today's rocket engines or pneumatic accelerators at less than 6 Gs from a variety of proven tracks.  The sled can also launch any airborne vehicle, including Mach 3+ ramjet powered aircraft or spaceplanes.  This does not require a technological breakthrough since scientists and engineers have proven this concept viable using existing technology. 

     The Space Shuttle burns 40% of its fuel just to reach 1000 mph (Mach 1.3) because it struggles to push through the dense lower atmosphere with a full fuel load.  NASA's maglev assisted launch studies showed that a 600 mph (Mach 0.8) assisted launch can reduce the required fuel by 25%, allowing a single-stage RLV to make orbit with a substantial payload.  Assisted launch off a Sky Ramp is the only viable method of inexpensive space launch.   This is the next leap forward in space launch.  For details, choose a topic button on top.

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Sept 2010 Update - NASA has taken an interest in ramp launch, albeit impractical horizontal launch