The Nextbigfuture nuclear launch gun has been described several times. It is a one pulse variant of a project orion external pulse propulsion system. It is simple though dramatic: Dig a kilometers deep shaft—a salt layer would be easiest to penetrate (some exist 3.5 kilometers thick) —build at the bottom a giant shell, from components lowered into place, layer by layer enclosing its internal payloads with external structures (such as a supporting sabot) and sealing the unit to flight-ready status. Place sets of guide rails around the perimeter of the shaft with ‘slippers’—metal contact shoes—touching the rails from the edges of the Shell. Finally, after all is in readiness, pump reaction mass through an access shaft under the sabot into a prepared chamber and place a thermonuclear explosive device in the midst of the reaction mass. A 150 kiloton version would not violate the nuclear test ban treaties which permit underground nuclear explosions up to 150 kilotons. About 85% of heat energy of the nuclear explosion should be converted into kinetic energy to launch the roughly 3500 ton shell to over escape velocity.
Pictured are project Orion nuclear pulsed propulsion, this system is variant with only one charge instead of hundreds and where the explosion is underground with all fallout and electromagnetic effects contained like hundreds of previous underground nuclear tests performed throughout the 1950s-1980s.
Consider Mass Launching of Nuclear Cannons – Nuclear Katyusha
There are over 6000 nuclear bombs are about 150 kilotons. The yield can be adjusted with the amount of tritium. So there are enough bombs for six thousand 150 kiloton launches without starting production of more bombs.
W80 mod 1 (cruise missile warhead) 1450 active, 361 inactive
384 inactive W84 cruise missile warheads. They would need a full load of tritium added to get them to their 150 kiloton yield and back to active status.
B61 -mod 3 (170 kilotons) could have some reduction in tritium to reduce it to 150 kilotons. (200 active, 186 inactive)
W62-Mk-12 (170 kilotons, 580 active or inactive)
W76-Mk4 (100 kilotons, 3030 active or inactive)
Making the 3500 tons Shells is Comparable to the Effort for making a Liberty Ship
Liberty cargo ships of world war 2 had 3425 tons of hull steel. The construction time for liberty ships dropped to about 28 days and one of them was built in 4 days and 15 hours. Eighteen American shipyards built 2,751 Liberty ships between 1941 and 1945.
Thousands of deep oil wells are drilled
It is conceivable that a couple of thousand of two mile deep holes could be drilled each year.
Six thousand 3500 ton launches would be 21 million tons.
Cost Estimate per Launch
Dig a deep 2 mile hole (like the deeper oilwells but a bit wider). Cost about $10 million. Conservatively round up to $40 million.
About 3000 ton projectile (depends upon coupling efficiency). Set it off and launch it at 5000Gs into orbit or towards the moon.
$10 million for the projectile and the propellant.
$20 million for the work of setting it up.
Launch costs for supplies and refined metals would become $10/lb. (assuming the nuclear bombs in stockpile are donated)
Launch people and delicates the regular way. The supplies and refined metals would allow for industrialization of space.
10 Megatons of TNT, equal to 4.185×10^16 Joules (1 ton of TNT = 4.185×10^9 Joules, One Joule is one kilogram/M^2/S^2 )The average power produced during the entire fission-fusion process, lasting around 39 nanoseconds, was about 1.1×10^24 watts or 1.1 yottawatts. Configuring a nuclear device the way project Orion had planned would direct 85% if the energy at the pusher plate.
so 3.5*10^16 Joules towards kinetic energy.
Kinetic Energy =1/2*Mass*Velocity^2
Escape velocity=11186 M/S
EV ^ 2 = 125 million (m^2/s^2)
2.8*10^8 kg or 280,000 tons. Say 70,000 tons to double escape velocity if we wanted to be pretty sure that the projectile cargo could go the moon if we aimed it right.
1 megaton would launch 28,000 tons to escape velocity.
150 kilotons would launch about 3,500 tons to a bit over escape velocity.
The asteroid and meteor FAQ explains how atmospheric resistance is a problem for small objects. A meteoroid of 1000 tons (9 x 10^5 kg) would retain about 70% of its cosmic velocity. A 100,000 ton object passes through the atmosphere like it is not there. The firing of the nuclear gun would be a like an aerodynamic asteroid in reverse.
One launch can crack underground for about 0.7 square miles. So 4200 square miles for 6000 one time launches. This is less than half the area of Vermont (9620 square miles) and less than the area of Connecticut (5541 square miles) and about the size of the Big Island of Hawaii (4028 square miles).
The system could also be used as a future weapon if the nuclear bombs were taken or built on the moon and it was used to send bombardment back to Earth. In the future, a system on the Earth could also attack the moon. Of course you would already have nuclear bombs and you could just forgo the launching of a kinetic weapon. A kinetic weapon would be less vulnerable to anti-missile and bomb defences (like lasers) that would destroy the bomb before it explodes. It would be tougher to deflect or effect 3500 tons of solid metal moving at escape velocity.
Sea Based Launch Option
Joseph Friedlander had a brainstorm on how to launch the Wang Bullet (project Orion pulsed propulsion variant) from under the sea. The core idea for the nuclear verne launch gun is simple though dramatic: Dig a kilometers deep shaft—a salt layer would be easiest to penetrate (some exist 3.5 kilometers thick) —build at the bottom a giant shell, from components lowered into place, layer by layer enclosing its internal payloads with external structures (such as a supporting sabot) and sealing the unit to flight-ready status. Place sets of guide rails around the perimeter of the shaft with ‘slippers’—metal contact shoes—touching the rails from the edges of the Wang Bullet. Finally, after all is in readiness, pump reaction mass through an access shaft under the sabot into a prepared chamber and place a thermonuclear explosive device in the midst of the reaction mass.
The reaction mass (in our conceptual model, water, but many other substances would work) not only becomes the propulsive hypersonic plasma and impulsive gas but also serves as an accelerative, radiation (boron included against neutron flux) and impact shield relative to the extreme violence of the blast chamber. So it is not the nuclear blast that directly accelerates. The blast acts on the propellant and filler.
Nuclear Verne BlowGun – the entire system, the hole, the nuclear device, the cistern of propellant and the projectile
Wang Bullet – the projectile being launched
Friedlander Sabot – the base of the projectile
One of the biggest objections to the nuclear cannon concept has to be the idea of a radioactive hole left behind. It is an emotional feeling.
Suppose the launch tube and setup at sea costs $75 million, and the Wang Bullet and thermonuclear device all together, including launch and payload costs $200 million. That is less than a shuttle launch. But instead of 15 tons to orbit (the equivalent of 3 tons to the Moon) we are talking probably 1000 tons to the Moon. That is $200000 a ton to the Moon, or $100 a pound. The benefit would remain very low cost to launch material and payloads that are resistant to high G forces and no radiation in the atmosphere and no radiation in the ground. The sea would disperse the radiation from the underwater explosion. The underwater explosion will make it easier to prevent radiation from getting to the atmosphere.
* Nuclear bombs exist and there is no question that they work and there are thousands that have built, paid for and in storage
* There were tests which showed that nuclear bombs can launch heavy metal objects at high speed and the objects survive
* The system is taking material and using a nuclear bomb to provide the energy to make it into more energetic propellent. Chemical propellant maxes out at lower speed and energies. Nuclear take the same chemicals and ups the heat (100 million degrees instead of a few thousand) for more speed and energy
* the Ocean already contains 3.5 billion tons of Uranium
The current space capability versus the proposed system is the difference between starting a colony and industry with the supplies you can put in a pickup truck or what you can put into a container ship.
Nuclear effects would not get into the air, what will be in the water is safe, hundreds of times more supplies at one hundred times lower cost for space using technology that exists.
Joseph Friedlander Presents the Under the Sea Verne Gun
True nuclear wastelands are few and far between—there is the B30 tank at Sellafield’ in the UK and Lake Karachay in Russia Where a lethal dose of radiation can be obtained by simply picnicking for a few hours at most in the immediate vicinity. To obtain such levels usually you would have to be the drainage sump of a garbage dump (as these were) of a nuclear materials complex (single bombs, even large ones, usually keep the isotope dump under a ton!) And even though a bomb could make thousands of square kilometers temporarily uninhabitable—that is only through short lived very active isotopes. (One minute after detonation a 1 mt bomb cloud has the radioactivity of 300,000 tons of radium) TNT
To get lots of decades- half lifed longer-lived isotopes, you really have to work at it on one place.
Nuclear detonations from the 1950’s and 1960’s on land have left isolated regions which are safe to transit or even camp upon but not live permanently (or grow food) upon. This does not mean that wildlife does not flourish—it does, but some isotopes climb up the biological chain to become concentrated in the apex predator, man.
By contrast, the site of ocean-based detonations quickly fills in and detectable radioactivity is usually gone in weeks unless the detonation was in shallow water—in which case an analogy to the unsafe to grow food zone can exist—there are very probably reefs in the South Pacific—downwind of former test sites– where the fish are spectacularly thick, but where the catch would be unsafe to eat.
In deep water, however, even this disadvantage is much lessened. There is life on the abyssal plain, but not much that man eats. The oceans are huge, and most particles that rain down are sequestered in deep sediments. This would go for radioactive particles as well. Not that we advocate unlimited—or indeed any– nuclear leakage or environmental vandalism—merely that when leaks and accidents happen, it is far better that any such occur in the remote deep ocean rather in the midst of farmlands.
Important to know is one fact: That the ocean basins are – so to speak—downhill from the land. If we think for a moment about the relative wisdom of setting off bombs in the Nevada desert— highlands uphill and upwind from the USA’s agricultural regions and great cities— and the deep ocean—the choice would be obvious.
Of course, what happened in the era of above ground testing, before the 1963 treaties, was that Nevada was closer than the South Pacific, and many people expected Soviet bombs all over the country and promptly, so what are you bothering me about?! So logistics won out for small bomb tests. In regard to the large tests, even a fool could see it was politically untenable, so… the remote Pacific. But that was then. Now getting X-rays to kids is politically questionable, and you want an open-air bomb test?!
Well, no, we don’t. We want a contained test where nearly all the tritium is captured, where nearly everything else is confined. A whole series of Wang Bullets— enough to bootstrap an entire space economy, rendering itself obsolete– would release about as much into the environment as one smallish bomb test of the old days; if we capture 98% of the tritium, obviously it takes 50 contained tests to equal one uncontained test. 99% capture might be achievable, and the tritium is the hardest thing to contain. 99.9% and greater capture for the bomb isotopes in the detonation chamber should be easy. (Remember, it is a cave with one very distant small and remote skylight, and a simple open shaft in the Pascal A test kept in 90% of the radioactivity from escaping, despite the fact that there was no shell to push against and rebound the trajectories of bomb debris particles. Also remember that this is in essence an UNDERWATER underground test and you will see that it is very very hard for any given particle to make its’ way uncaptured to the surface.)
Also frankly most of those open air bomb tests were– duh– weapons tests. For example the 300 kiloton Chinese test of December 28th, 1966.
Weapons want to be compact and robust and consequently usually use a little fusion to trigger lots of fission. If we design the bomb with a 1 kiloton fission trigger, (known to be enough to ignite fusion because it works in the neutron bomb) no secondary spark plug (the Russians have done this) and 149 kilotons of fusion (the Russians use modular 30 kiloton pure fusion secondaries) AND we have 99.9 percent containment of fission isotopes, we see that 300,000 launches would be needed to equal the debris from just one 300 kilotons of fission open air test– ITSELF just one thousandth or so of all bomb testing in the open test era. 300 MILLION launches of several thousand tons each using Wang Bullet technology would be needed to equal the fallout the world ALREADY has survived– and frankly, several dozen should be all that are needed for an industrial bootup in space.
Turning to the case of an oceanic Wang Bullet launch, it should be obvious that the ‘launch tube’ will be destroyed. The Wang Bullet can and will leave swiftly, the launch tube cannot.
The Launch Tube
This picture merely conveys the concept of an evacuated launch tube, a cap, the energizing chamber and thermonuclear device under the Wang Bullet. It portrays the Wang Bullet as a unitary device when in reality it will almost certainly consist of the crushable Friedlander Sabot beneath and an aeroshell atop a modular construction beneath.
Looking like a thermometer tube with a bulb at the bottom, the launch tube remarkably thin walled for its’ structure.
Because it CANNOT be filled with seawater, it however cannot be very thin walled.
If it is a kilometer deep, the water pressure outside would be on the order of 100 bar, and it would be as stout as a supertall concrete chimney. It need be strong in compression but not so strong in tension, for buoyancy floaters can be attached to its side to ‘levitate it’ in addition to the lines suspending it by tension from the erecting ship. It must be rigid and very straight, so it is segmented.
An alternate-track method might be to use subring segments stacked like chimney bricks held together with fibers –cables– strong in compression– lowered from ship with a proprietary sealant between parts. Remember, a chimney is an arch and will resist massive compression.
Assembly— It is put together like an oil well pipe string in say 10 meter segments, with the bulb at the bottom and the cap on the top.
The bulb is lowered in and filled with fresh water, the bomb suspended under the Wang Bullet, an evaporation cap placed on that and the Friedlander Sabot and Wang Bullet itself then inserted, then segment after segment added until the top cap itself is added. Then the system is pumped down.
Those early milliseconds are critical, the guide rails constrain the motion before they begin to fail, the speed begins to build up, and also in that time whatever is ahead of the Wang Bullet in the barrel is compressed. Pumping down the chamber helps get the initial acceleration rate up even if it slows down when hitting actual sea level atmosphere just outside the limits of the barrel.
Even a partial vacuum will assist greatly in achieving the escape velocity that is our goal (or more precisely, cut friction losses until the Wang Bullet exits at sea level…) Because the atmosphere (if compressed equally) is only the equivalent height of about 8 kilometers ‘thick’ a sea launch tube of 1 kilometer pumped down will save about 12 percent extra drag losses. This may not be strictly necessary; we may decide on an open tube because of the sheer power available, but then ablation within the tube will complicate things. It will be a lot easier to get going with the air out of the way.
Natural meteors above 100,000 tons are essentially not slowed down by atmosphere—in the 1000-3000 ton range this can also hold true by clever design i.e. like ICBM RVs—incidentally the Quicklaunch http://quicklaunchinc.com people have come up with a figure of a shell over >10 kg penetrating atmosphere, and Professor Warren D. Smith’s magnetic catapult concept paper http://www.math.temple.edu/~wds/homepage/launcher.ps
came up with a figure of a shell over >4000 kg penetrating atmosphere so a 1000-3000 ton range shell certainly can neglect atmospheric drag if it is moving with enough excess velocity to pay the price of punching through the atmosphere)
Ordinary molecular steam will top out at around 4-4.5 kilometers a second exhaust velocity, and we need more than that. We want to get moving at escape velocity, and the closer (but still survivable) to the bomb the impact absorbing Friedlander Sabot and Wang Bullet are the faster they will get moving, fast enough to escape the Earth (11.2 km/sec plus) if the reaction fluid-filled detonation chamber around the bomb is over-energized for steam, resulting in a state of plasma there.
The incredible power (literally, energy output divided by time) of even a small thermonuclear blast will give an unspeakable kick to the Friedlander Sabot and crush it; (while starting its’ upper part on the acceleration rails headed straight upward– the Wang Bullet will be kicked skyward, still far beneath the sea – and the less ahead of the Wang Bullet the more speed it will achieve for the same kick behind it spitting it skyward.
But at this point the reader may ask, “Hey—this is not a reinforced cannon barrel but a simple tube. Why won’t it burst open!”
It might be good to think about the shaft-based, land launch version of the Wang Bullet. Why doesn’t every single (properly and deeply buried) underground nuclear test site burst open? Simply, balance of dynamic and static forces reaching an accommodation.
When a defective cannon bursts open what is happening is that the steel is trying to hold back the pressure and there is a flaw in it. So the expanding gas takes the easy way out. In the deep ocean, a moment’s reflection will convince, there is no easy way out– other than straight up the barrel. The barrel does NOT hold IN the gas– it holds OUT the water. (The Wang Bullet can punch through the atmosphere easily enough– but NOT the ocean, not without disintegrating)
Similarly, while the back of the tube will be eaten up progressively as the blast rises, the top hasn’t been gotten to yet in the early blast stages. If the Wang Bullet leaves fast enough, it will not be consumed.
Inertial confinement works in the thermonuclear bomb itself, i.e. trusting in the survival of the fusing secondary even though the expanding primary explosion is already chewing up one end of the H-bomb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teller%E2%80%93Ulam_design it has been proven to work literally hundreds of times there. Inertial confinement of a sort will also keep the ocean out of the damaged launch tube because literally the ocean hasn’t time to implode inwards until the Wang Bullet has shot outwards already.
Those who read the book or saw the 1955 movie, The Dam Busters
will know that the “Upkeep” bouncing bomb (designed to bounce over defensive torpedo nets then sink next to the dam) had to be detonated when it was in close contact with the target dam.
Simply, if the explosive blew in open water even a moderate distance from the dam, the shock waves would simply rebound off the dam.
However, if the explosive was sinking very close to the dam wall when it detonated, the force of the blast—the high pressure underwater bubble– would be confined by the hydrostatic resistance of the water against the dam and burst it.
Some call this the “bubble pulse effect”—it is not very intuitive to people who have seen many blasts on land. But air is 800 times less dense than water—water confines the blast far more effectively than air, about two or three times less effectively (density considerations) than tamping with sandbags. Folks who want to demolish a bridge use explosives tamped down so the blast goes through the bridge and not into the air.
And this is the result of only a few meters of tamping material.
Now consider the Wang Bullet’s launch tube—the ‘Thermometer Bulb’ the bomb chamber below the Wang Bullet would be filled with fresh water pumped from tanker (with neutron absorbing boron rich layers) to prevent long lived isotope generation by neutron activation.
(we want to create neither Carbon-14 or Chlorine 36 from the surrounding seawater)
and the thermonuclear device placed within it. The bomb flashes to plasma and a new star is born under the ocean—but not of infinite size. Just as under the ground, a bubble or void is formed. Because ground is denser than water, (and has a higher vaporization temperature) the bubble is larger under water–
But not that much larger.
There are not just a few meters of water on top but nearly a kilometer—EXCEPT for the hollow of the launch tube—with the Wang Bullet blocking the way.
I think it is safe to predict that the Wang Bullet will be forced out of the launch tube. Because literally that is the easiest way out. The alternative is pushing billions of tons of water … hydrodynamic and hydrostatic forces will reach an accommodation
The huge pressure of the gas wants to rapidly vent out the launch tube—which is why we have called the land based version the Verne Blowgun. On an intermediate time scale, the bottom of the launch tube is being destroyed by the spreading force of the explosion. On a much slower time scale, the gas bubble around the bomb wants to rise toward the surface. The Wang Bullet is forced skyward, and then the tube is chewed up from bottom to top.
Pictured below is a Bolonkin Dome (air supported) to contain the tritium escaping from the launch. In real life the mushroom cloud would not have risen before the Wang Bullet was long clear of atmosphere (a matter of a few seconds). Ideally this structure could further contain the radiation/tritium but let the spacecraft out through a rapid shut doorway known as the Oculus.
The hole fills in seconds, the waves die out in minutes, within a day the debris has sank or dispersed; (small particles more slowly than large) radioactivity nearly gone in weeks unless an island is splashed. Obviously we have chosen a deep site so that is not an issue. The ocean is huge, vast stretches of it are quite remote, near massive shipping capacity, and (to a degree) self-cleansing.
We can imagine the Wang Bullet as a transitory stage in space travel history, just to aid in the bootup of vast space industries. It is a period which will only last a few years—
Consider the capacity being sent up. Each launch sends up more than ALL Saturn V launches. Depending on the yield, literally the amount lifted could be more than all space launches (payload only—not counting spent stages–) ever.
What size should the thermonuclear charges be? The most common impulse is a kind of liberal guilt about using thermonukes at all and trying to limit the size of the energizing devices. See Project Pacer for an example of how to kill a promising idea. (LINK) Wrong, wrong, wrong. First of all the fission trigger will be hard to limit to less than a kiloton for reliable firing, (even the Russians used a 30 kiloton primary on the staged modular 4 x 30 kt secondary thermonuclear device) although neutron bombs and the history of the ~450 ton yield W-54 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W54 argue strongly half a kiloton is possible with sufficient testing- (and apparently they needed over 20 tests to get it right)- but the folks who don’t like the Orion launch system didn’t like testing either, as memory serves. And in general, if there was an equally cheap non-nuclear way to send stuff skyward, I am sure neither Brian or I would wish to use the nuclear way. But if the alternative is a societal collapse or a danger of human extinction due to the danger of being trapped on a closed world with another 60 years of planet-killer technological development coming down the pike (EZ biowar kits, new classes of manseeker weapons, name your nanopoison, etc…) Then we will take the emergency exit. The Wang Bullet is at least an option for discussion.
The treaties set against it (which can be abrogated in case of supreme national interest or by common agreement in case of international necessity) include the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. There is also a 1974 Threshold Test Ban Treaty which sets a 150 kiloton limit. Although the original conception of the Wang Bullet involved a much larger device, there are penalties for largeness as well as incentives. So let us consider a 150 kiloton device as the energizer. As for the urge to go below 150 kilotons– I don’t think so. Antinuclear folks will moan and yell just as much for 1 kiloton as 150, so why not get 150 times the payload or cut cuts per kilogram to escape velocity 150 times more?
Suppose the launch tube and setup at sea costs $75 million, and the Wang Bullet and thermonuclear device all together, including launch and payload costs $200 million. That is less than a shuttle launch. But instead of 15 tons to orbit (the equivalent of 3 tons to the Moon) we are talking probably 1000 tons to the Moon. That is $200000 a ton to the Moon, or $100 a pound. That is cheap enough to do real operations there. (Note that this does not include low-G cargo, including people, but see below on ideas to do that cheaply) Using a 1.5 kiloton device would soar the price per pound to $10000. Conventional rockets could do it cheaper if the system were well designed (currently they cost (to lunar surface) about 10 times that.)
150 kilotons perfectly used would transport about 10000 tons to earth escape velocity. 20% of the energy in the Bikini Baker test of 1947 went to raising water, and the explosion was not even confined. Assuming 30 percent of the energy is coupled in shell motion, 3000 tons to escape velocity looks doable.
As for larger explosions, beyond a certain point each shot requires much more logistics (the flight article is much heavier– 3000 tons is already the mass of a small destroyer, the launch tube gets more massive, etc). A 3000 tons launch vehicle is a good enough load to start with.
Assume extremely robust packaging, about a third of the weight, and merely robust cargoes should make it up usable, about 2000 tons worth. So the packaging is 1000 tons, the contents say 1000 tons and we can imagine a fuel reserve of say 1000 tons of water which can be used as Dr. Zuppero has outlined, http://www.neofuel.com using small heat sources (nuclear or solar) for fine trajectory and orbital adjustments once clear of the Earth. If just over escape velocity, and with around 2 km/sec exhaust velocity, 1100 degrees Kelvin being the nozzle temperature– and using 1000 tons of water as the throwaway and 2000 tons of cargo and packaging as the remnant, we find that we get around 800 meters a second delta v, sufficient for capture into lunar orbit (a bare capture is better than a tight capture as long as there is a high perilune (closest spot to moon in orbit).. (An alternative is to crash it directly to a given spot into the moon, and retro just the contents of the packages– this could also involve some delta v expenditure to aim the impact to a precise site for easy scrap (powder!) recovery. The robust packaging could be for example of copper, zinc, boron or some other substance desirable for industrial bootup as powdered scrap, heavy or light enough to easily separate from lunar regolith.
Note that too high over escape velocity gets you to an orbit we can’t reach easily. So fine tuning by sensing muzzle velocity and putting ablative mass of very small particle size in the way may be needed to keep things to barely over escape velocity– or if fine control is impossible, the Moon’s bulk will stop it and we can go for lunar surface rendezvous with whatever sub-packages soft land (and the powdered scrap on the lunar surface)
So by whatever path we get there we probably will involve the Moon in our plans.
The working assumption of this article is that after all the packaging is dealt with, we have around 1000 tons to work with of net cargo from a 150 kiloton launch– (using, again, 1000 tons for the packaging (Wang Bullet structure, possibly modular like a shotgun shell’s contents or egg sac), 1000 tons payload, 1000 tons water). If we aim at the Moon and have say 1000 2 ton mini-landers (obviously with robust engines, but working rocket engines have been shot from cannons before) and assuming an exhaust velocity of 2500 meters a second (typical of solids) then of each 2 tons we may be able to get 650 kilograms down– say 500 kilograms net cargo. So 500 tons to softlanded lunar touchdown, plus 1000 tons of powdered rarer element scrap from the packages. (say we can salvage half of that). You will lose some to keep the price of each lander say around a couple hundred thousand dollars (The V-2 was made for around this much) John Walker calculated in 1993 http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/rocketaday.html that a V-2 in 1943 dollars was $13000 marginal cost for each new copy and manufacturing cost alone was $43750 in 2009 dollars. The inflation calculator http://www.westegg.com/inflation/infl.cgi gives
What cost $13000 in 1943 would cost $159515.32 in 2009.
What cost $43750 in 1943 would cost $536830.42 in 2009.
This is for a delta-v capability, around 2 km/sec which is just a touch below the 2.4 km sec lunar landing speed. (but they used alcohol, modern fuels would supply the difference and more) As long as 70% of the landers make it and cargoes are not unique but well duplicated and distributed packages, do you care which ones crash? (and even a crash at hundreds of miles an hour and certainly at terminal touchdown would presumably leave much to salvage in terms of hardened cargo).
But think about this– the massive Nova Rockets, never built, only would lift a million pounds (500 tons) to low Earth orbit, and typically only one eighth 60 tons + would make it to the lunar surface from that, if RP1/LOX, and one fifth (100 tons) if liquid hydrogen/LOX. For a Saturn 5 you can probably assume about 18.75 tons down (with a substitute lunar module with liquid hydrogen/LOX discarding, not landing, the S-IV B). So each one of these is the equivalent of 26 dedicated Saturn V all-to-the-surface landers. You could stock a small base (other than the people or low-g cargo!) with this.
Land the people at the first impact site, raid the mini- landers, assemble an outpost and large rover from pieces (possibly inflatable), then using landed fuel (or lunar ice deposits) journey overland to the next one, do work there. You could explore and set up the bases at the same time, then land more people ready to work. Among the landed high G cargo would be MREs (meals ready to eat) ice (melting to water) and a solar powered electrolyzer on the rover could make oxygen (or a roaster make oxygen out of certain classes of moonrock). Supply constraint would not be hanging on Mission Control’s neck as in the rigidly limited early landings, where astronauts would be reminded continually of timeline.
Another idea: You could (if fine tuning muzzle velocity works) capture into lunar orbit, and from there launch an egg-sac like multi sphered water carrier craft on a staged mission, leaving tanks cached behind in various places. The idea would be to rendezvous with a modified (say) Dragon or Soyuz spacecraft that could capture each tank, pump in the water, used solar energy to heat it, and change orbit to the next tank. Using this (unconventional!) staging strategy, an ordinary LEO spacecraft like we can make today (with those key modifications) could rendezvous with the mother ship still in lunar orbit and make a super lunar Skylab out of it– and indeed, assemble moon landers from the scrap, fuel them, and set up base at ground hit sites on the Moon as outlined above.
This suggests a strategy of aiming for the Moon first, getting ground hits, (and mini-lander soft landings) and when fine tuning the speed works, getting a capture into Lunar orbit and then sending down refueling tanks to Low Earth orbit for a mission to Lunar orbit and ultimately for Lunar landings. Eventually you would be able to mine the powdered scrap, and native lunar deposits as well.
We should note there might well be a role for Quicklaunch even in a world with the Wang Bullet. Stores get huge container deliveries all the time. They also get UPS and FedEx packages in between those to plug specific logistic gaps. We forget the scale of lunar bases projected in the early 1960s for the present time, but consider 1000 people on the Moon, or 10000. Even with 100 kilograms a year personal cargo each sent them, you can imagine at least one Quicklaunch system kept busy that way– not to mention emergency scientific supplies to cover losses, burnouts, etc. At this stage we are well into minor industrial development on the Moon.
Brian has discussed the possibility of the shaft-launched original Wang Bullet system. The sea launch option I think is superior because of the lack of a contaminated hole. Actually reloading a shaft launch is problematic because, like a hot-launch ICBM, the Wang Bullet damages your hole– and unlike that ICBM, it is a radioactive hole your men have to work in. I don’t see it happening. The industrial capability to create several 150 kt launches from in the same contaminated site (and by definition, the land launches will be remote sites—this is one case where NIMBY makes total sense…) Also difficult to see happening.
Every difficulty you encounter shows up in the increased cost to space. We already noted the beginnings of the slide to out of control costs and lack of cost benefit that are the death knell of space projects. The idea is to not only keep it cheap, but to achieve far less than current COMMERCIAL cheapness.
The sea launch option acknowledges each shaft as being regarded as disposable (though in fact there
may be a way to reuse materials after a few years) and literally builds a shaft, a chimney of minimum thickness and known composition, of steel reinforced concrete rings. The sea does the containment without the permanent ground cracking and stress that land sites endure, and without any concern as to water table contamination or ongoing environmental monitoring. We consider it a superior option. (Also the one less favored by treaty, because the 1963 treaty prohibits underwater explosions. As we noted however, it may be modified by either agreement or supreme national interest).
A few final advantages to the Sea Launch Option for the Wang Bullet–
Less restriction on launch locations. Not just stable strata in the abandoned Arctic or Antarctic. Not just remote hard to reach places (even with access to sea) The Moon is directly over head in a band varying from 17 North to 17 South, minimum, to 29 North and 29 South, maximum. So straight up and straight down (hitting the Moon) is possible.
The far open ocean is by definition, near massive shipping capacity, remote from people, etc. Also, no one owns international waters.
Also, smaller powers like the UK which lack suitable huge barren territories for a Wang Bullet land launch, may find it easier to do it at sea.
At this point we probably should acknowledge that people have a thing about nuclear. Brian has already reviewed documents by supposedly objective organizations which were so cosmically biased against nuclear power that Brian concluded,
‘I laugh at their claims of objectivity’
–I had a similar ‘hold on’ moment when I started reading Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Gradually it dawned upon me that an amazing amount of their time was –um– opposing atomic stuff. I wanted to read about mega atomic engineering, Thrilling Mechanix style– alas…the dreams of a young boy.
In a way this Wang Bullet work goes back to that early enthusiasm for the potential of nuclear power. In the spirit that there has got to be a small scale way to do it sensibly that will have LESS impact then the REAL impact of coal (thousands dead a year simply from mining, before we even touch on pollution, which surely is tens of thousands, mostly elderly from respiratory events, mostly in China).
In a similar way, nuclear space systems should not be dismissed out of hand IF the conventional alternatives do not measure up and cannot be made to boot a space economy in reasonable time intervals. Now as it happens, the Wang Bullet possibly is NOT the best answer, if there are cheaper and more economical and lower G methods that will send this level of cargo up and allow this level of space activity, bring them on!
But if you don’t, don’t complain if we discuss this… A little word there for free speech…
As the saying goes, show me the money. Show us a launch system cheaper per kilo to the lunar surface, that opens up space operations like this one, that does not rely on nuclear, and we will concede that that is the superior system.
As it happens, there may be one. But that is for another article…
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.