A team from the University of Sussex’s school of engineering, led by Professor B V Jayawant, is researching a magnetic levitation and propulsion (maglev) system as part of Nasa’s Advanced Space Transportation Programme. Nasa wants to reduce the cost of rocket launches by eliminating the expensive stages. It plans to accelerate the vehicle on a track up to 5,000ft long. Low earth orbit could then be achieved with a single rocket engine. The maglev system being researched at Sussex is based on the simple ‘magnetic river’ devised by Eric Laithwaite. The magnetic river uses coils in the track to create a travelling magnetic field, which lifts the vehicle above the track, guides it, and propels it along.