If you ask SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos or Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck how to reduce the cost of launching a satellite, they’d probably all say by developing low cost reusable rockets. The team at Escape Dynamics thinks the next generation of aerospace systems could send a reusable spaceplane into the stratosphere using microwave energy.
Image courtesy of Escape Dynamics
The idea is to replace highly explosive fuel load and onboard power systems with a a collector based in the plane’s heat shield. Ground based microwave emitters (converting grid electricity using mirrors) will send energy to the collector, which would drive an electromagnetic motor to heat a small quantity of on-board fuel (hydrogen or helium, for instance) which is then ejected as thrust to get into orbit.
Escape Dynamics claims that a helium-fueled engine was able to achieve a Specific Impulse (the equivalent of MP/H for a rocket) of 500 seconds, and estimates a hydrogen-powered engine could reach 600. If lab results can translate to real flight tests, this could be a gamechanger for the private spaceflight industry.
The trick will be to build a global network of microwave emitters to keep the plane in the air. And all the conventional concerns that space entrepreneurs must consider: environmental, political, and financial. But heads up, Espace Dynamics is determined to change the way we reach orbit.