Launching a rocket into space is expensive. The current chemical method requires over 800,000 gallons of liquid propellants. On average it costs $450 million per shuttle launch, which is in addition to the cost of the shuttle itself. The Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion. So, as costs continue to rise some scientists and engineers are trying to come up with an alternative launch method.

One solution involves permanent magnets spaced evenly along a track. This method uses magnetism and magnetic flux to reduce friction and build momentum so a rocket or a shuttle could escape the atmosphere and enter space. This DIY magnetic rocket experiment is a small-scale demonstration of how a magnetic launch might work.

Supplies:

Directions:

  1. Before you can launch your ball bearing rocket, you need to make your track. The track should be three wooden skewers long so line them up two by two. The sticks should be parallel to each other and close enough so that the ball bearing can roll down them.
  2. Place the putty or clay where the sticks meet each other to hold them together.
  3. Take the neodymium magnet cylinders and place them horizontally on the putty. Make sure they are secure and spaced far enough apart. If you have super powerful magnets, they might attract to each other when too close.
  4. Next, put two ball bearings behind each of the magnets. You should have one ball bearing left.
  5. Finally, take your last ball bearing and put it at the beginning of the track. When you let it go, it should be attracted to the first magnet. And eventually the ball bearings will move down track carrying the momentum of the first until the last one flies off.

This DIY magnetic rocket works by using the magnets to build momentum. The first ball bearing is attracted to the first magnet. When it zooms towards the magnet, its momentum is passed through the magnet and the ball bearing on the other side to the second ball bearing. The second ball bearing will then be forced closer to the next magnet and transfer momentum through that magnet into the next two ball bearings.

This could go on and on depending on how long you make your track. In theory, a longer track will generate more momentum. Some scientists estimate a 5-mile track would be sufficient to launch a rocket into space while others believe 1000 miles would do the trick. How long do you think it would need to be to launch a spaceship?

 

Image by Stannered