'Sling' me to the moon
Glasgow University researchers are reaching to the moon with a new project funded by the European Space Agency. The project, led by Professor Matthew Cartmell, Dr Gianmarco Radice and Dr Massimilliano Vasile, and in collaboration with Manuela Aguzzi (research team coordinator of the Spacelab at Politecnico di Milano), will investigate the use of gigantic 'slingshots' as a cheaper and more robust system of transportation between the earth and the moon.
The only UK project, from over 50 applications, to be selected by the European Space Agency will investigate the suitability of 'tether systems' to transport scientific instruments, food, water and raw materials from Earth to the moon, and to deliver mined materials from the moon back to Earth. Reporting on the efficiency and the cost implications of the systems, the project could result in the preference of tether systems over the currently preferred rocket systems.
Tether systems, which act like gigantic 'slingshots', are designed to propel materials from one orbit to another. The system is usually composed of a central mass with two long cables extended in opposite directions with the cargo attached to the end of these cables. Orbital dynamics dictates that when the cargo is released it will either boost or decay (move away from or towards the Earth or Moon). If the cable is long enough and the orbital velocity of the system is high enough the cargo can be 'pushed' to the moon.
Dr Radice explains the possibilities of his research: 'Tether systems are an extremely attractive possibility for space transportation as they do not require any fuel. The cargo is transferred from one orbit to the other using the orbital velocity of the system. There are a number of practical issues that have to be addressed, as the cables are kilometres long and have to be extremely resistant, but this could provide an efficient method of transporting goods between the Earth and Moon. With the renewed interest in lunar exploration and the possibility of lunar bases being constructed in the next 20-25 years finding cheap and reliable ways of bringing resources to the Moon and returning mined materials is crucial.'
Kate Richardson (K.email@example.com)
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First published: 31 March 2006