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The Contender
Con (against)
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NASA should develop a hybrid Startram system to save fuel

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/24/2017 Category: Science
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 789 times Debate No: 102168
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (8)
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It currently takes NASA over 3 million lbs of fuel to get the space shuttle into space. A hybrid open air maglev system releasing the shuttle going 300 mph at the top of Mount Elbert (23,533 ft above sea level) could provide initial thrust and reduce the amount of fuel used per flight dramatically, from 0 mph release at sea level that is currently in use. The cost to build the hybrid system would be a significantly lower capital expense than a full startram system. (even if the cost per launch would be more expensive with the hybrid system) A hybrid system would provide a proof of concept, and put cargo in space for a fraction of what it currently costs per kilo. ($10,000)


Here are my arguments against Pro.

1. How would this be built? Pro suggests that the exit velocity of a space shuttle is 300 mph, or roughly 133 m/s. If we assume a constant acceleration of 1 G (9.8 m/s^2), then the track length will need to be 864 m long (Distance squared divided by 2A). The Chuo Shinkansen line costs 51 billion dollars for 286 km of track. This equates to 178 million dollars per kilometer of track. This is not a maglev bridge, which the final StarTram design needs to be, but instead a maglev track on the ground, which would be way cheaper than building a bridge. 178 million dollars times 864/1000 is 153.8 million dollars. That is the cost if you want to build a flat maglev track carrying 60 tons of train, on flat ground without the need for bridges. Of course, this cost would skyrocket up to build a heavy duty maglev track capable of supporting 605 tons of highly explosive rockets up Mt. Elbert. The magnets would also have to be 100 times stronger to support the weight of the space shuttle. Putting that aside, those strong magnets would also affect all the control systems and computers that allow the shuttle to go into low earth orbit, and the payload cannot be metal or else it would get affected by the super strong magnet that does not exist yet.

2. There are also many safety issues that we need to consider. What happens if the engines fail and don"t start past the point of no return? It glides (read: tumbles) down into a national park with 478 tons of fuel. An ecological disaster would be an understatement. What happens if there is an earthquake? Traditional earthquake mechanisms won"t work, as this elevated track stretches almost half a kilometer up the side of a mountain!

3. To achieve low earth orbit, we would need 34000 kph of delta-V. A maglev track releasing a space shuttle at a measly 480 kph (300 mph) won"t do anything to make rockets lighter or cheaper. However, it will probably make launching rockets way more complicated than it should be.
Debate Round No. 1


1. How to build it.

First off I said it would reduce fuel, I didn’t say that it would remove the need for fuel completely. The track does not need to achieve escape velocity. Your acceleration calculations are incorrect. I only need to get to 300 mph, so with an acceleration of 1 m/s2 (based off Transrapid high-speed monorail completed in 1987) the track would need to be less than 19 km long to get to 134.11 m/s2. The cost was 1.33 billion for the Transrapid for 30.5 kilometers (plenty of distance to cover my needs) and supported a 50-ton train and 20 tons of cargo.

The magnets would need to be stronger, but unlike the Transrapid my concept has a track as a canal with sides. Obviously, this would increase the track costs, as well as the location, and going up a mountain would increase the costs, but I can’t see them doing more than tripling the costs. So my estimation is between 2 – 3 billion. (the Startram is estimated at 60 billion) Also, because the escape velocity at sea level is 11.2 km/sec that mean the escape velocity at 37k km above sea level is less.

Half the Earth's atmosphere is found at less than 20,000 feet (3.8 miles), so at the release point of 23,000 feet the drag is much lower as well.

All making it so the amount of fuel, and the total weight required for the shuttle would be much lower. Just to clarify when I say space shuttle I understand that it would need to be redesigned to work with my system, so it would not be the same space shuttle that is currently in use today, I’m just using that as a generic term.

2. Safety

Mountainous regions are sparely populated if something did fall to the ground it shouldn’t hit a highly populated area. Also, it won’t need that much fuel as previously stated. Burning of all the fossil fuels isn’t doing our environment any good as it is. An earthquake or shouldn’t hurt the track, but it could cause problems with an avalanche. Obviously, we would need to monitor seismic activity.

3. Escape velocity

Again I don’t need 34,000 kph as I’m not launching at sea level. When calculating, the energy required to get 200 tons going 300 mph I think you’ll find the required energy is a bit more than “measly”, as the inertia 200 tons is no small thing.

I’m just looking to cut the fuel costs in less than half, not completely remove them. As stated this isn’t a Startram system, this is just something to give it a bit of an oomph to get it started so it saves fuel. That saved fuel should pay for itself in 20 or so flights. $450 million was the average cost, if I could half that cost, and save 225 million X 20 = 4.5 billion.


"Your acceleration calculations are incorrect."
Oh yes. I didn"t realized it until I posted it. Sorry :). I will use your calculations for the debate now.

2. "supported a 50-ton train and 20 tons of cargo."
The 1976 rail could support a 50-ton train, the weight we are talking about here is 2200 tonsof metal and highly explosive fuel. I will talk about the difficulties of building even a magnet that can support that weight, but first let me talk about the additional cost of the bridge.

Let"s take the golden gate bridge as an example. It can hold a moving load of up to 4000 pounds per foot. The Falcon 9 (latest - generation rocket) weighs 1 210 457 pounds fully fueled, and is 230 ft tall. If we do the calculations, we then realize that the maximum weight of an object 230 ft long is 920 000, which means we cannot transport the Falcon 9 using the Golden Gate Bridge.

For this to be successful, we would need a very strong bridge that doesn"t even exist yet, make it resistant to harsh weather and earthquakes, and build it up a mountainside! Pro"s cost estimates are unreasonable, one because the technology doesn"t even exist yet, and 2 because building a maglev track capable of supporting 50 tons is not the same as building a maglev bridge capable of supporting a 500 ton rocket.

3. Exiting the maglev track at 480 kph (300 mph) at 23000 ft (7 km)
According to the Falcon 9 launch video, the rocket is already travelling at 1070 kph at 23000 ft. If we release a rocket travelling at just 480 kph by that attitude, it would seriously need to have a lot of acceleration and would require more energy to orbit. If it cannot speed up fast enough, the rocket will just go on a suborbital trajectory back to Earth, a few thousand miles away from where it had originally lifted off. For this system to be viable, we would need the rocket to be exiting the maglev track at way higher speeds, which is very hard to engineer, and the track would have to be way longer.

4. " if something did fall to the ground it shouldn"t hit a highly populated area"
I did not talk about it destroying a city (however, there is one nearby: Salt Lake City), but it will be an ecological disaster, as the rocket contains a ton of fuel, and the crash area contains a ton of trees and wood. We all know what happens next.

5. "Obviously, we would need to monitor seismic activity"
Yes. Monitor it and then what? Do we cancel the launch and rebuild all the maglev systems again after they have been destroyed?

6. "Again I don"t need 34,000 kph as I"m not launching at sea level."

That is the universal delta-V needed to get into low earth orbit. You say that building this insanely expensive infrastructure will "give it a bit more oomph," but the "oomph" it provides (480 kph) is not enough to justify the cost of building the infrastructure. If we subtract the delta-V from the maglev track, it gives us 33 520 kph left of delta-V needed to get to orbit. All of that comes from the fuel. It is easier to simply make the rocket 5% bigger than to build a maglev system with technology that doesn"t exist yet.

7. Pro didn"t refute my argument about how the super strong magnets required to lift the rocket will affect the internal computers of the rockets.
Obviously, we would need super strong magnets that would interfere with the metal payload, and the computers allowing the rocket to reach orbit.
Debate Round No. 2


1 how to build it

2200 ton where fuel weighs 20 times more than the shuttle. If I cut the fuel costs by 70% I cut the weight costs by that much as well. 2100 X .3 = 630 + 100 = 730 (100 tons for the shuttle taken out of the percentage drop)

I’m not supporting this on a bridge, I’m supporting it with a mountain. So the pounds per foot is higher on concrete anchored to stone than a bridge, as well as the weight cut by a third. I don’t need a bridge at all, none of the track is suspended in air. It either sits on the ground or it sits on a mountain. Now there may be some issues as it goes up the mountain and gets to be closer to vertical, but given the width and length of contact area in a U channel I feel like it would be dispersed much better than against a flat surface like a road on a bridge.

The delta-v refers to acceleration needed to do something. If you are talking about something else you’ll need to clarify please.

I did refute your argument about magnets affecting internal systems when I said “just to clarify when I say space shuttle I understand that it would need to be redesigned to work with my system, so it would not be the same space shuttle that is currently in use today, I’m just using that as a generic term.” To go further into depth on the matter if one side of a track can hold 100 tons without bothering the people inside, then the same track with two additional sides could 300 tons without bothering the people inside. On top of that the width of the track and the side would be bigger. So there would need to be some shielding, but the magnets wouldn’t need to be some super strong craziness.

3 escape velocity

1070 kph is not realistic for an open-air maglev system, and I’m not suggesting it. I feel like it would top out around 350 – 400 mph at best, and those wouldn’t be consistent release speeds. However, making up the differences in speeds would easily be possible with a few additional seconds burn at the end given that gravity will not be affecting you as much

Also, It should be noted that the Falcon 9 weighs 480 tons at liftoff coming in almost half of the 730 calculated above, and it’s still launched from sea level so it need a lot more fuel than my system. Therefore the thrust would not be fighting as much weight.

2 safety

Fire in mountains covered with snow is not legitimate problem.

We cancel it, and it won’t destroy the track unless it destroys the mountain which is not a legitimate problem.



"If I cut fuel costs by 70%"
You CANNOT cut fuel costs by 70%! You would need 34 000 kph of delta-V, or change in speed, to reach orbit. You are assuming the maglev track can accelerate the rocket 70% of the speed needed to get to orbit, which is 34 000 kph * 70% = 23 800 kph. Therefore, if you want to decrease fuel costs, you would need to launch the rocket from the maglev tube at 23 800 kph, and as you said "1070 kph is not realistic for an open-air maglev system," I think 23 800 kph is also not realistic.

"I am not supporting this with a bridge, I"m supporting it with a mountain"
But how? I hope you realize a mountain is not a straight 30 degree incline towards the top; but it is rather rugged.
From the picture above, the only possible route up is the blue line. Now, how would you put a maglev track on that rugged mountainside? There is a reason why we need to build a bridge to support this massive vehicle, and that is to provide it with a straight incline towards the peak of the mountain. When you have something over 1 million tons travelling at 300mph, you wouldn"t want a track that looked like this ( Therefore, the track needs to be built on a low bridge that compensates for the bumps and hills in the mountain, which increases the cost even more.

"Also, It should be noted that the Falcon 9 weighs 480 tons at liftoff"
It seems we are using different sources here. The official SpaceX website shows that Falcon 9 weighs 1,207,920 pounds (

"We cancel it"
WHAT? Cancel a 62 million dollar launch excluding expensive payload? Are you serious!

"it won"t destroy the track"
Yep. Totally. Over 1 million pounds of highly explosive fuel and metal travelling at over 300 mph will not destroy the track.
Debate Round No. 3
8 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 8 records.
Posted by Coveny 3 years ago
Who said anything about banning anything? Troll somewhere else...
Posted by Herooftheyear 3 years ago
You can easily make a bomb using house supplies, Should you also ban these as well?
Posted by Coveny 3 years ago
The space gun requires rockets to reach escape velocity otherwise the required force and speed would rip anything "shot" from it to pieces or melt it from the heat. (about 25,000 MPH) The major difference between the space gun and a maglev system is that it doesn't require that explosion at the start, it increases speed slowly. As for the launch system carrying the weight. My system is roughly modeled off the Transrapid high-speed monorail that weighs 50 tons, and can carry 20 tons of cargo and gets to 300 mph in about 12 miles. (assuming I did the math correctly) So it shouldn't have a problem with the shuttle and a decent amount of rocket fuel with a bit more engineering.
Posted by Swindenland 3 years ago
Awesome idea, but it would be horrifically expensive and I believe that there are other more effective alternatives. The space gun concept would be far more practical, but has also its own limitations due to its size. I launched a rockoon myself and was amazed by it. But weight could present a problem here, I don't believe such a launch system could carry much weight.

Anyways good luck.
Posted by Coveny 3 years ago
14440 is the elevation, the prominence is another 9 thousand or so feet above that. Burning millions of lbs of fuel likely also has an environmental impact, and we will continue to use that method until another more effective method is proven.
Posted by levi_smiles 3 years ago
Mt Elbert is 14,440 ft high, the highest peak in Colorado & set in some fairly pristine National forestland. Seems like the environmental impact would significantly offset the benefits of shaving 3 miles off a 400 mile trip. Also, does not address the more immediate problem of space junk accumulation. Heinlein suggested a similar ramp up Pikes Peak in "Starship Troopers" but I think Asimov's elevator (Assembling vehicles in space) is more pragmatic in the long term.
Posted by Coveny 3 years ago
Unlike a normal track there is no physical connection with a magnetic levitation track. So the rockets would fire before the end of the track, and the shuttle would just continue on from that point. The major difference between this track and a regular maglev track is that because it's vertical at the end, it would need to track on both sides of the shuttle to keep it aligned and provide magnetic thrust.
Posted by Sonofcharl 3 years ago
How would the release system work?
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