Mass driver

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A mass driver or electromagnetic catapult is a proposed method of non-rocket spacelaunch which would use a linear motor to accelerate and catapult payloads up to high speeds. All existing and contemplated mass drivers use coils of wire energized by electricity to make electromagnets. Sequential firing of a row of electromagnets accelerates the payload along a path. After leaving the path, the payload continues to move due to inertia.

A mass driver is essentially a coilgun that magnetically accelerates a package consisting of a magnetisable holder containing a payload. Once the payload has been accelerated, the two separate, and the holder is slowed and recycled for another payload.

Mass drivers can be used to propel spacecraft in two different ways: A large, ground-based mass driver could be used to launch spacecraft away from the Earth or another planet. A spacecraft could have a mass driver on board, flinging large pieces of material into space to propel itself. A hybrid design is also possible (see coilgun, railgun, or helical railgun).[citation needed]

Miniaturized mass drivers can also be used as weapons in a similar manner as classic firearms or cannon using chemical combustion.[citation needed]


Fixed mass drivers

Generally speaking, mass drivers are practical for small objects at a few kilometers per second; for example 1 kg at 2.5 km/s. Heavier objects go proportionally more slowly; and lighter objects may be projected at 20 km/s or more. The limits are generally the cost of the silicon to switch the current and the cost of the power supply and temporary energy storage for it. However, energy can be stored inductively in superconducting coils. A 1 km long mass driver made of superconducting coils can accelerate a 20 kg vehicle to 10.5 km/s at a conversion efficiency of 80%, and average acceleration of 5,600 g.[1] Even so, Earth-based Mass drivers for propelling one-tonne vehicles to orbit are unlikely to be cost effective in the near future.[citation needed]

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