The Innovative Way Craig Bouchard’s Space Railway Could Tackle Space Exploration
By Space Coast Daily // August 12, 2022
In May 2022, Craig Bouchard joined Dr. Kenneth Douglas and General Donald McGregor, founders of The Space Railway Corporation, on a mission to design a more efficient way to carry cargo into space and return on the same ship with a load of rare commodities.
The company is building a patent portfolio around its proprietary technologies involving propulsion, energy conversion, vehicle design, and the needed advanced materials. The centerpiece of the mission is a futuristic technology called the Space Railway.
And it’s loosely based on concepts scientists have theorized about since 1895. The company’s goal is not to build the Railway. That construction project will become the largest in history, likely to be taken on by a consortium of nations aligned politically and economically to work together to explore deep space.
Before diving into the specifics of the tech, though, it’s worth reviewing the current state of space exploration. Because what’s driving Craig Bouchard, General McGregor, and Dr. Douglas is a belief that the Space Railway could solve an unmet global need to eventually colonize outer space.
The Problems with Modern Space Exploration
To a casual observer, space exploration may appear on its way to a new frontier. With SpaceX leading the way, NASA can again send astronauts into space without relying on Russian space vehicles. SpaceX has also drastically reduced the cost of space exploration with its reusable rockets.
Space Railway Aiming to Overcome The Thrust Problem
Yet none of SpaceX’s innovations goes far enough in solving the problem inherent in thrust-based launches. Craig Bouchard and the founders of the Space Railway aim to do just that.
Payload is the load a vehicle carries necessary for its operation, e.g., passengers, cargo, research equipment, etc. In space exploration, the payload is the “stuff” a spacecraft takes to do space exploration. Even with SpaceX’s revolutionary rocket technology, its rockets can carry just 64 tons of payload into low earth orbit.
Given the rocket’s total mass, 1421 metric tons, 64 tons of payload amounts to roughly 4 percent of the space vehicle’s weight. That’s just for low earth orbit. Rockets need more fuel to reach a higher trajectory and even more to reach Mars. Rockets can carry just 1% of their total weight at planetary distances.
The payload-to-mass ratio is so low because of the thrust required for a spaceship to reach orbit. Massive thrust requires massive fuel. And unless the laws of physics are rewritten, that won’t change. Craig Bouchard, General McGregor, and Dr. Douglas propose a new mechanism for reaching space.
The Tendrils of the Thrust Problem
The essential issue of solely relying on thrust to bring payload into space has numerous challenges. The first is cost. The average price to send a payload between 40,000 and 50,000 lbs. into space is $62 to $96 million.
That amounts to $3300 to $4400 per pound. Space Railway would reduce this cost by an estimated ten times, to $484 per pound.
The second knock-on effect of the thrust problem is launch frequency. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is leagues ahead of the rest, launching three rockets monthly.
Three to four launches per month aren’t enough if the goal is to establish a colony in space. It’s the equivalent of using a covered wagon to explore the United States Western frontier rather than railways.
Design being worked on by Bouchard and the founding team would increase space trips tenfold with daily service.
How the Space Railway Works
The Space Railway might sound impossible, but as mentioned earlier, scientists have theorized a version of it for decades. The basic concept relies on a cable, or tether, anchored to the Earth’s equator on one end. On the other end would be a counterweight located above geostationary orbit altitude. A geostationary orbit is a point above the Earth that orbits in sync with Earth.
A vehicle using the tether would“climb” into space (thus eliminating the need for the escape velocity, requiring massive amounts of fuel.)
The tether remains taut thanks to the opposing forces of gravity and centrifugal force. Gravity, strongest at the earth’s surface anchor, would pull the system down. And centrifugal force, most vital at the counterweight above geostationary orbit, would support the structure.
The Space Railway has three main challenges. (1) a tether must be made of carbon nanotubes or another similarly strong material. (2) is the design of the vehicle. Moving up and down the tether will be a hybrid transport vehicle (HTV). (3) A combination of maglev technology and jet and rocket propulsion would power the HTV. Maglev technology is a well-tested and established solution for high-speed trains. It relies on a series of magnets that repel one another and allow trains to travel on a cushion of air, reducing friction which permits higher speeds with less energy output.
Unlike traditional spacecraft, the HTV won’t have to rely on rockets exclusively, which means far less mass dedicated to fuel. And to top it all off, the Space Railway’s HTV will harvest kinetic energy and be solar-powered.
The Key Innovations of Craig Bouchard, General McGregor, and Dr. Douglas
An obstacle to the theory of a space elevator-like construction is the strength of the material required. When these theories came about, no material was strong enough to support a space elevator. But carbon nanotubes or other recently discovered advanced materials have the potential to change that. Carbon nanotubes are lightweight, flexible, conductive, heat-resistant, and could be up to 200 times stronger than steel.
The 100 gigapascals of tensile strength required for the elevator may one day be achievable with the advent of carbon nanotubes or other advanced materials.
All this is not to say that the Space Railway has arrived. But a revolution is coming with Craig Bouchard, General McGregor, Dr. Kenneth Douglas, and recent addition Anthony Lee (former Pentagon acquisitions and foreign military sales officer) behind it.
With a combination of maglev propulsion, superstrong tether technology, unique vehicle design, and kinetic energy capture, the Space Railway may become the eventual answer to colonizing space. The laws of physics have guided space exploration.
And while those laws haven’t changed, how humans can harness materials and energy has. Space Railway is using those changes to manifest opportunities not seen since Lewis and Clark explored the American West.