New Technology Could Lead Us Closer To Outer Space

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

May 31, 2005

As more private money is used for space exploration, the closer we are to commercial space travel and vacation, especially with new cost-saving technology.

"You would be able to put material into space at a cost savings of 300 times to 1,000 times over rocket based technology," explained recent electrical engineering graduate, Ben Roberts.

Roberts has been studying technology that could do just that.

"You can potentially launch things in theory up to the speed of light," Roberts explained.

This technology is called a railgun. In theory you could put it on the ground and have it launch material such as supplies directly into outer space.

"If you want to continue exploring and privatizing space you need a cheaper way to put material up into orbit and at less risk, and a rail gun seems to be the only viable option," Roberts said.

Roberts put together a team of five students and the Army awarded them a grant of $2700 to study the technology. This is the first time UVa students received this type of grant.

"It seemed a little ambitious and first and I didn't know how far we would get with it, but it ended up being an amazing project," said recent graduate Brent Schavitz who was a part of the research team.

"This is really the model for what we would like all of our undergraduate students to do," Technical Advisor Scott Barker said.

The peak velocity of the gun was clocked at 1,850 meters per second. The team already developed second generation models and is leaving the project for future students.

"I would like to come back in a few years and see it still in action," said Roberts.

The technology is still being developed and could eventually be used as guns on army tanks or battleships or even different versions as amusement park rides.

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