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Orbital Railgun Launch Platform

Orbital railgun facility to assist spacecraft launch and deorbit.
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This is a large platform in low Earth orbit, consisting of a substantial mass, power generation (solar?) and a long railgun (10 km?).

This facility would provide a way-station for spacecraft launched into low-earth orbit, which could dock and then be accelerated via railgun into a higher geostationary orbit, lunar, or earth escape trajectory.

It would also aid in de-orbiting earth-bound craft. The Earth-bound ship would dock, and then be accelerated in a de-orbit direction, thus greatly reducing the speed relative to atmosphere, thus reducing the need for heat-shielding. This could possibly be aided by the craft's own deceleration rockets, especially if re-fueled.

The platform could also function as a fuel depot, hotel, manufacturing and research facility. It might need to be equipped with its own thrusters to compensate for launching more outbound than inbound cargo.

DrFever, Sep 15 2009

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       [+] a LEO platform linear accelerator's a new one.
FlyingToaster, Sep 15 2009
  

       I have always said that I would happily give a foot to go into space, I now have to say that I would give my other one to get into space and use one of these.
kaz, Sep 15 2009
  

       Hmmm, not if the launch direction was to the rear of the platform. Then the force of the recoil could help in stabilizing the platforms’ decaying orbit.   

       All space missions in matched pairs?
pocmloc, Sep 15 2009
  

       Fly up to orbit with a re-usable booster. Dock with the railgun platform, de-mate the payload module from the booster. De-orbit the booster, which gains the platform a bunch of velocity; then turn and fire off the payload module, returning the platform to its proper orbital velocity.   

       I think on one load, you'd fire downhill / uphill, and then reverse order for the next load.
lurch, Sep 15 2009
  

       //All space missions in matched pairs?//   

       Good for a half-orbit at least.
MaxwellBuchanan, Sep 15 2009
  

       Niven did this on his Ringworld. (Along the rim, but equivilent in purpose)
phoenix, Sep 16 2009
  

       As I said, a substantial mass. Think captured asteroid, not to mention tons of supplies such as food and fuel, plus hotel, hydroponic gardens, zero-gee swimming pool (with giant view window of course), robot army, docked ships, etc. This provides the feature of each launch having only a small impact on the platform's orbit. You then use your ion thrusters over days or weeks to correct, assuming no opposite direction launch is scheduled soon.   

       Sorry if this was in a Ringworld book, I only read one of them.
DrFever, Sep 17 2009
  

       nuthin' to do with Niven's Ringworld that I can see.
FlyingToaster, Sep 17 2009
  

       [+] although lassoing that meteorite wont be easy.
ixnaum, Sep 17 2009
  
      
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