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Low cost propulsion systems for the developing world

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:09 authored by Tanay Sharma, Chris ChatwinChris Chatwin, Rupert YoungRupert Young, Phil BirchPhil Birch
Space has often been referred to as the final frontier. It is the curiosity of what lies beyond our planet that drives us to turn to the skies. This quest for knowledge and the chance of travelling to the heavens has compelled people to devote their lives to space science, innovation and analysis of our ever-expanding universe. Today the most significant impact of rocketry comes in the form of manned spaceflight. Vehicles like the Space Shuttle and Soyuz began the trend of greater commercialization of manned rocketry, enabling widespread access to space. Whilst the curiosity of what lies beyond may have propelled the development of the space tourism industry, its current operational cost is estimated as $20-$28 million per passenger per flight. Although the vision of providing low cost space travel still exists, its application is hindered by the costs associated with current space vehicles and mission operations. Furthermore, if we are to better understand our universe and are keen on commercializing space, we would require the space tourism industry to operate in a similar fashion to the aviation industry. As most current launch vehicles rely on chemical propulsion, the level of uncertainty in the market drives their fuel costs. In order to reduce the cost per flight, we must effectively increase the load factor per flight and operate multiple flights, enabling a greater number of paying passengers. In order to provide widespread access to space there needs to be a greater emphasis on the research and development of low cost Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLV) which predominantly rely on alternative fuel technologies, thereby reducing the overall cost per flight. Although progress would be slow, we would still be able to witness a boom in space tourism. This paper proposes the use of magnetic levitation and propulsion (Maglev) within a vacuum chamber as a viable low-cost propulsion technology. It aims to prove that such a system is capable of providing adequate thrust to future space vehicles. As Maglev systems allow for horizontal take-off and landing, such a launch system could be used in conjunction with current airports worldwide. Although the inception and creation of such a system may seem expensive, the long-term fiscal costs are relatively lower than current day systems. This is primarily because such a system relies on electrical power, whose supply and generation costs are much lower than that of chemical propellants. Also, the maintenance costs associated with the Maglev track are minimal, as during take-off there is no physical contact between the track and the launch vehicle. Similar to the aviation industry, the success of future space exploration programs and space tourism relies on international cooperation and alliances. This not only ensures that no one country dominates access to space, but also nurtures healthy competition by providing a level playing field. By implementing the afore mentioned system in politically stable developing nations, we ensure employment, innovation and motivation, all achieved through an international alliance. This system would not only ensure a faster urban development within these countries, but would also bring the vision of space science and exploration to a larger global audience. This paper discusses the overall cost analysis for a vacuum operated Maglev system, the various options available for the generation of power required by such a system and how the system’s long term costs can be aligned with the aviation industry.


Publication status

  • Published



Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

Recent Advances in Space Technologies (RAST) 2009

Event location

Istanbul, Turkey

Event type


Event date

9-11th June, 2009

Department affiliated with

  • Engineering and Design Publications

Full text available

  • Yes

Peer reviewed?

  • No

Legacy Posted Date


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