Is it possible to use magnets to launch small light weight satellites into a orbit around the earth to provide a net like coverage around the earth? Is it practical and will it be useful?


Theoreticaly? Yes. There are papers about doing this either with a Coilgun or a train-like launch system (the (magnetic floating) "train" would accelerate along a miles-long track which at the end bends upwards).

But there are three very difficult problems to solve which make it rather unpractical:

  1. Speed vs. drag: To reach a stable orbit you need a start-velocity of Orbitspeed (~8000 m/s) + Loss to gravity drag + loss to drag. The last one is the game-breaker: at ~15 km/s the air at the first few kilometres of atmosphere will be thick like a wall and will:

    a) kill most of your velocity really fast and
    b) create a lot of heat due to shock-heating.

  2. Magnetic shielding: Your payload will be exposed to very strong magnetic fields while in your acceleration system. You either need a very robust satelite (like a simple brick of steel) or need to shield it somehow.

  3. Accelaration: Since you need a huge starting-velocity, you need either really long tracks/barrels (like 100 miles long) or you need to accelerate at several 100s of Gs … Not a problem for a brick of steel, but your satellite will most likely be rather fragile.

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  • $\begingroup$ The question is rather vague but it does mention orbit in the title. There's no practical way of doing that for small satellites without any means of circularizing their final orbit. $\endgroup$ – TildalWave Oct 1 '15 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ True, as your "orbit" would go through your launchsite. You would need at least a small booster to increase your perigee to be over the atmosphere. (Solid fuel prefered since it is more likely to survive all those acceleration/decelarationforces) $\endgroup$ – m.fuss Oct 1 '15 at 8:15