The Starfire space cannon is a homemade howitzer intended to launch small payloads into orbit on the serious cheap.
Have you ever wanted to launch something into space, but it's always been too expensive or just too complicated? We've all had that problem at some point in our lives, but we've never been able to do anything about it - until now.
Richard Graf of Cochrane, Ontario has built what he calls the Starfire space cannon, an eight-inch bore, 45-foot long, multi-chambered artillery piece that he hopes will ultimately be used to fire small objects into orbit. The gun itself is impressive, but the trick is in the shell: In order to compensate for the loss of pressure that drives a projectile as it travels down the barrel of a conventional gun, the Starfire employs incremental propellant charges, triggered sequentially after firing, that provide lower but more constant pressure and also lower G-loadings on the projectile and its payload.
Cochrane is one of those places where you can actually fire a howitzer in your yard and nobody much cares, and based on the Kickstarter video this thing seems to work, at least insofar as it's noisy, has a hell of a kick and makes a mess of whatever's standing in front of it when it goes off. That's a long way from space, though, and that's where Kickstarter comes in.
The Kickstarter will fund live-fire testing of the Starfire, which will be conducted in two stages. The first phase will be a vertical firing test, currently slated to take place in May and June, to ensure the gun is mechanically sound. After that comes the sub-orbital flight tests with "glide probe vehicles," which are intended to achieve a minimum altitude of 100 kilometers. What goes up must come down, of course, and I'm not sure how much control anyone can realistically expect to have over a giant lawn dart that's been thrown 328,000 feet in the air, but Graf doesn't seem too concerned about the possibility of accidentally killing someone or starting a war.
"We are not anticipating many problems with this design although there may be a bit of a learning curve as we gain experience with this vehicle," he wrote on Kickstarter. He also noted in the "Risks and Challenges" section that the gun could blow up, the trailer could fall apart, the glide probes could be blasted into pieces or they might just end up getting lost somewhere in, you know... Canada. It's a big place. But hey, it'll probably work out, right?
The Starfire Space Cannon Kickstarter is seeking C$65,000 and runs until March 2. And I'm not even going to attach the usual "buyer beware" warning to this one, because hey, what could go possibly go wrong - right?