‘Slingshot’ to the moon plan is out of this world

RICHARD GRAYSCIENCE CORRESPONDENT (rgray@scotlandonsunday.com)
SCOTTISH engineers are developing a gigantic “slingshot” to transport cargo to the moon as part of a European project to set up a base on the lunar surface.

Dr Gianmarco Radice and Professor Matthew Cartmell, from Glasgow University, have been given funding by the European Space Agency to develop their new system to send food, water and raw materials to the moon.

They claim that by attaching cargo to a set of giant cables orbiting the Earth it is possible to propel the materials to the moon with a fraction of the fuel needed to send it in rockets.

The system works by exploiting the centrifugal force that builds up when an object is in orbit. Radice claims cargo taken up by space shuttle from Earth can be offloaded onto an orbiting “tether”. The huge cables, several kilometres long, will then spin around before propelling the cargo towards the moon.

If the cable is long enough and the orbital speed of the system is high enough, the cargo will undergo an acceleration process. A second “tether” orbiting the moon would catch the cargo and it could be retrieved by a short-range shuttle to be taken down to the lunar surface.

Radice said: “The European Space Agency is looking for a cheaper way of sending cargo to the moon than using traditional rockets which use up huge amounts of fuel.

“Tether systems are an extremely attractive possibility for space transportation as they do not require any fuel.

“We can tether a central mass in orbit around the Earth on thin, rigid cables and attach a payload at the other end. By releasing the payload at the right time, its velocity would increase while the other mass would slow down and drop an orbit towards the earth. It works like a slingshot but on a much bigger scale.”

The project was selected by the ESA from more than 50 applications proposing transportation systems to the moon. The team have been awarded £7,000 to produce a working model in the next three months before reporting back to ESA bosses about the efficiency and cost implications.

Cartmell has already tested the theory using weights on an ice rink and now hopes to build a larger model to help perfect “catching” the payload.

Radice added: “If we get good enough results then we would be hoping for a bigger amount of funding to conduct a longer term project. There are a number of practical issues that have to be addressed, as the cables are kilometres long and have to be extremely resistant to collisions from debris impacts.”

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