This Nazi-style megagun hopes to replace space rockets

A company called Longshot is building a giant cannon that will fire payload into space from a 6-mile-long barrel at a fraction of the cost of a rocket.
Christopher McFadden
Concept art of the final space cannon.


California-based hypersonic launch startup Longshot is progressing with its kinetic space launch system that will see freight fired into orbit rather than strapped to a rocket. If successful, this launch system could dramatically slash the cost per lb/kg to deliver a payload to space. Other companies, like SpinLaunch, are working on a similar concept, but Longshot's approach is truly awe-inspiring.

Not to mention very, very fun. But this technology will never be able to deliver human "cargo" to space, at least in one piece.

Giant space gun

Longshot plans to develop a gigantic multi-stage cannon, technically called — a multi-stage projectile-accelerator, to accelerate small payloads at Mach 30 in several seconds. Once at launch speed, the cargo exits the barrel and is fired into orbit in short order. "Our system [comprises] the 'kickstage' and side injectors, which work to push the vehicle to hypersonic speeds. The 'kickstage' provides the impulse to send the vehicle supersonic while the side injectors squeeze the vehicle with air as it travels down the barrel. Over distance, the injectors accelerate the vehicle to hypersonic speeds," explains Longshot.

As New Atlas points out, this concept is nothing new (like the WW2 German V-3 cannon), but Longshot's effort takes a potential weapon of war and adapts it for less destructive outcomes. Using such guns for non-military purposes is also nothing new with the mid-1960s Gerald Bull's Project HARP.

"At a high level, Longshot is a pneumatic-powered projectile cannon," said Longshot Chief Technical Officer Nato Saichek. "There's no combustion anywhere... The key insight, and the fundamental thing that makes Longshot work, is that instead of pushing from behind, we can also push from the sides. Our projectile has a long, tapered tail that hangs off the back, and we squeeze the tail from the sides the same way you'd squeeze toothpaste out of a tube," he added.

"By taking advantage of the geometry of that tail, we can push the projectile forward much faster than the gas moving in from the sides," added Longshot CEO Michael Grace. "This lets us take a comparatively slow-moving fluid – like compressed air – and turn it into a forward top speed of the projectile at orbital velocities," he added.

Using a compressed-air squeeze-gun method for space launches offers some advantages. It is gentler on the barrel compared to explosive or rocket-powered methods used in the past. Additionally, the gun can be quickly and easily reloaded using compressor pumps. However, the sheer numbers involved in space launches are truly awe-inspiring.

Use again and again

"I'll give you the image I have of an orbital launch from Longshot," said Saichek. "So we have a [6.2-mile) 10-kilometer-long concrete cylinder that's [about] 10 feet [3 meters] in diameter. And we load the projectile into the breech, seal it up, and fire. The projectile goes from one end of the barrel to the other in about one second. It exits, going about 10 kilometers per second (Mach 29). The projectile banks off the atmosphere and rides screaming into the upper stratosphere. A little delivery to low Earth orbit. And then we'll do it again. And we'll do it again," he added.

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