TechChina's Tengyun project: A 37-mile cannon to launch spacecraft

China's Tengyun project: A 37‑mile cannon to launch spacecraft

Earth from space
Earth from space
Images source: © Wikimedia Commons | NASA

3:33 PM EDT, March 17, 2024

Chinese scientists have been working on the Tengyun project since 2016, and they are now on the verge of a significant breakthrough, as reported by the South China Morning Post. This project involves a 37-mile-long cannon designed to launch projectiles the size of a Boeing 737 into space.

Just a few days ago, the field of space exploration witnessed a notable milestone. SpaceX successfully launched the Starship rocket, the largest object sent to space so far. Despite its unsuccessful landing, the launch demonstrated progress and offered numerous benefits for the future of astronautics.

China is now announcing another advancement in space technology with its Tengyun project. This project aims to make the transportation of cargo and people into space more cost-effective. After extensive research and development, engineers are presenting specific solutions to the challenges involved in this pioneering space technology.

The Tengyun Project

The ambition behind the Tengyun project, which has been ongoing since 2016, is immense. China plans to launch hypersonic ships into space in the near future, with an astonishing length of 131 feet—comparable to the Boeing 737-800. These Chinese projectiles are expected to weigh just under 110,231 pounds.

During its flight, the ship will activate an engine, enabling it to reach space at a velocity twice the speed of sound. However, the project's most significant innovation lies in the cannon itself, designed to launch such massive projectiles.

China intends to employ an electromagnetic cannon. So far, a 1.24-mile-long vacuum tunnel has been built for testing on a magnetic rail, where heavy objects have been accelerated to speeds of up to 621 mph. Yet, to achieve the desired acceleration speed of 3107 mph, China plans to construct a 37-mile-long cannon, demonstrating the ambitious scale of this endeavour.

This pioneering project, when fully developed, could be the first of its kind in the world. The concept of using an electromagnetic cannon to launch objects into space has also intrigued other countries, as seen from similar experimental endeavours by the USA in the 1990s, which were unfortunately discontinued due to funding issues.

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