So, what exactly is this electromagnetic launch microgravity device?
A video on the social media of “Workers’ Daily” shows a towering structure with three guide rails. A cylindrical cabin in the center quickly ascends due to the electromagnetic launch power and descends freely after reaching its peak. This structure simulates a microgravity (weightless) environment and can achieve a weightlessness duration of up to 4 seconds.
The video, which is only 11 seconds long after editing, reveals that this device is an upgraded version of the National Space Laboratory’s “microgravity test device.” A smaller version of the device was put into use in July. It was also hinted that a 500 kg class experimental device would be launched soon. Just two months later, this device was completed.
On July 20, the “South China Morning Post” reported on the microgravity experimental device, a groundbreaking addition to the Tiangong Space Station. This device uses electromagnetic propulsion, is fully controllable, and can realistically simulate microgravity, lunar gravity, and Martian gravity. The cabin’s retrieval acceleration can be around 3g, allowing experiments without additional reinforcement, increasing efficiency, and significantly reducing costs.
The principle is straightforward: this structure uses electromagnetic launch technology, similar to the catapults that launch jets from aircraft carriers.
Why is weightlessness simulation so complicated?
Weightlessness is common in space stations, but replicating it on Earth has always been challenging. There are two primary methods: free-fall towers, where height or depth determines the duration, and zero-gravity flights, such as those offered in Europe, which can simulate up to 22 seconds of weightlessness.
Why not just go to a space station? The simple answer: the cost is prohibitive. It costs tens of thousands of dollars to transport just one kilogram to space, and only a few experiments make it to the space station. More are conducted on zero-gravity flights or in free-fall towers. However, the electromagnetic launch offers a solution.
The electromagnetic launch microgravity simulation device works by accelerating an object using electromagnetic propulsion until it reaches the highest point of the device. During its ascent and descent, the object experiences zero gravity. This method allows for a significantly longer weightless period than free-fall towers and ensures the safe landing of the tested load.
It can simulate not only weightlessness but also the weak gravitational environments of the Moon and Mars. Zero-gravity devices are crucial, especially in the production of high-purity materials and medical experiments.
Space Elevator: A Future Reality?
The term “space elevator” was highlighted in the “Workers’ Daily” video title. The device is indeed reminiscent of space elevators, especially as depicted in movies like “The Wandering Earth.” However, the primary challenge for actual space elevators isn’t propulsion, but finding a material strong enough to act as a cable tethering Earth to an orbital platform.
To put it simply: we don’t yet have the technology or material to build a true space elevator. Though theoretically possible with materials like carbon nanotubes, we’re still a long way from turning this concept into reality.
Electromagnetic Launch: What’s Required?
While space elevators remain elusive, electromagnetic launches are feasible. The idea is to build a track several tens of kilometers long and use electromagnetic propulsion to continuously accelerate an object until it reaches escape velocity, at which point it can be released into space.
In summary, while the dream of a space elevator remains in the realm of science fiction for now, the potential of electromagnetic launches for space exploration and experiments is real and being actively pursued by China.