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Engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) have been testing Magnetic Launch Assist Systems, formerly known as Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) technologies. To launch spacecraft into orbit, a Magnetic Launch Assist system would use magnetic fields to levitate and accelerate a vehicle along a track at a very high speed. Similar to high-speed trains and roller coasters that use high-strength magnets to lift and propel a vehicle a couple of inches above a guideway, the launch-assist system would electromagnetically drive a space vehicle along the track. A full-scale, operational track would be about 1.5-miles long and capable of accelerating a vehicle to 600 mph in 9.5 seconds. This photograph shows a subscale model of an airplane running on the experimental track at MSFC during the demonstration test. This track is an advanced linear induction motor. Induction motors are common in fans, power drills, and sewing machines. Instead of spinning in a circular motion to turn a shaft or gears, a linear induction motor produces thrust in a straight line. Mounted on concrete pedestals, the track is 100-feet long, about 2-feet wide, and about 1.5- feet high. The major advantages of launch assist for NASA launch vehicles is that it reduces the weight of the take-off, the landing gear, the wing size, and less propellant resulting in significant cost savings. The US Navy and the British MOD (Ministry of Defense) are planning to use magnetic launch assist for their next generation aircraft carriers as the aircraft launch system. The US Army is considering using this technology for launching target drones for anti-aircraft training.
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