NASA continues with magnetic levitation track installation

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville, Alabama, has a second magnetic levitation track up and running. The experimental track, designed and built by Foster-Miller Inc of Waltham, Massachusetts, was installed inside a high-bay facility at the center this month.

Marshall’s Advanced Space Transportation Program is developing magnetic levitation- or maglev- technologies that could give a space launch vehicle a ‘running start’ to break free from Earth’s gravity. Such a launch system would use magnetic fields to levitate and accelerate a vehicle along a track at speeds up to 600 mph. The vehicle would then shift to rocket engines for launch to orbit. Maglev systems would dramatically reduce the costs of getting to space because they’re powered by electricity which- unlike rocket fuel- is an inexpensive energy source that stays on the ground.

The Foster-Miller experimental track uses a linear synchronous motor, which means the track is synchronized to turn the coils on just before the carrier comes into contact with them, and off once the carrier passes. Engineers are conducting tests on the indoor track and a 50-foot outdoor maglev track installed at Marshall last September by NASA and industry partner PRT Advanced Maglev Systems Inc of Park Forest, Illinois. The testing is expected to help engineers better understand maglev vehicle dynamics, the interface between a carrier and its launch vehicle and how to separate the vehicle from the carrier for launch. Future work on large systems will be led by NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre, Florida.