In concept, a slingshot capable of hurling objects into orbit sounds a bit iffy. A space-bound railroad just sounds silly. But a combination of the two is just what the Slingatron aims to be — and it just might actually send you to space one day.
Just launched on Kickstarter is a project to create a prototype Slingatron. If successful, the small-size Slingatron will be able to launch a one pound payload at 2237 MPH. That's one heck of a slingshot, and it definitely blows the fastest railroad in existence right out of the water.
(Image above: "An artist's concept for a full scale Slingatron space launcher about 200-300 meters in diameter. The spiral track is mounted on support pylons which contain drive motors and counterweight flywheels. Payload assemblies are prepared for launch nearby.")
Of course, a one pound payload is not a cargo capsule. To create a full-scale Slingatron would cost a whole lot more than the project's funding goal of $250,000. A full-scale Slingatron, capable of low-earth orbit launches would have to accelerate its payload to at least 4.7 miles per second, or nearly 17,000 miles per hour.
At 17,000 miles per hour, objects launched from the Slingatron could do a lot more than just reach orbit. Its creators imagine their contraption could aid in everything from planetary defense to orbital debris cleanup.
(Image above: "Artist's concept for a smaller Slingatron space launcher for payloads that can handle higher accelerations.")
It might sound impossible to get an object up to such crazy speeds, but the creators of the Slingatron are pretty sure that it'll work. If they're successful, the slingshot/railroad will be able to consistently loose objects into orbit at roughly 1/100th the cost of a traditional rocket.
To see how far its creators have gotten thus far, check out the video below of a tabletop Slingatron they've already created. Small as it is, the little guy can launch half-pound payloads at 224 miles per hour. And head on over to the Slingatron's project page on Kickstarter if you'd like to lend this crazy concept a hand.