One of the least known and most exciting developments in the past year is the resurrection of the idea of using giant tubes or guns to launch cargo into space. This is not a new idea. Jules Verne proposed the idea in 1856 in his novel From the Earth to the Moon. It’s still highly suspect and implausible. The commonly accepted knowledge about gun launchers is that its very hard to pack enough punch into a gun to get a payload to orbit without the gun blowing up in the process. And even if you could build a big enough and stable enough gun, the acceleration would destroy the payload inside the projectile.
But This Orbital Life is aware of at least two very well-capitalized and highly-credentialed companies working on this idea: 8 Rivers Capital and Green Launch. There are unsubstantiated rumors of other companies as well, although I was unable to find any proof online.
There is increased commercial interest in developing ground-based tube-launcher technologies.
There is increased interest in this field because of the skyrocketing demand for small satellite launches to orbit. If gun launchers can be perfected (a big if), they could theoretically launch small payloads to orbit every few minutes rather than every few weeks or months. And they could arguably do it much cheaper than conventional rockets, which are finicky, complex vehicles full of expensive rockets and electronics.
But we’re not interested in launching satellites to space. The value of gun launcher technology to space settlement is that it could cheaply and regularly launch feedstock for additive manufacturing facilities in orbit. 3D printers need lots of plastic and aluminum to operate. Plastic and aluminum feedstock would not mind the high acceleration experienced during a gun launch. In fact, the projectile itself could theoretically be ground up and recycled into 3D printer feedstock. And 3D printing in space is a critical precursor to orbital space settlement.
The value of gun launcher technology is that it would be ideal for launching feedstock to additive manufacturing facilities in orbit.
In the next post I will discuss the concept of space settlement precursors.