There is a proposed 10-year plan that would start with launching a drone like those the Air Force uses. More advanced models would follow until they are ready to build one that can launch a small satellite into orbit. A wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets would be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled. The aircraft would fly up to Mach 10, using the scramjets and wings to lift it to the upper reaches of the atmosphere where a small payload canister or capsule similar to a rocket’s second stage would fire off the back of the aircraft and into orbit. The aircraft would come back and land on a runway by the launch site.
* The launcher would reach at least 600 miles per hour over the course of two miles in Stanley Starr’s proposal.
Stanley Starr, Kennedy Space Center
NASA’s Stan Starr, branch chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at Kennedy, points out that nothing in the design calls for brand-new technology to be developed. However, the system counts on a number of existing technologies to be pushed forward. A rail launcher study using gas propulsion already is under way, but the team is applying for funding under several areas, including NASA’s push for technology innovation, but the engineers know it may not come to pass. The effort is worth it, however, since there is a chance at revolutionizing launches.